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Could AccorHotels' €148M 'sharing economy' deal set a precedent?

' €148 millionacquisition ofhigh-end home rental site Onefinestay represents an unusual meeting between atraditional global hotel brand and the sharing economy. Could it be the shapeof things to come as traditional hotel brands try to ward off competition fromthe likes of Airbnb?  

U.K.-basedOnefinestay allows the owners of high-end properties in cities such as Paris, London,New York and Los Angeles to list their properties for short-term rentals.Unlike Airbnb rentals, homes on Onefinestay are vetted before being listed, andare attended to by a concierge who ensures that they are clean and stocked withfresh towels and toiletries. The apartments do not come cheap, either. Some,like a four-bedroom apartment in Princes Gate Mews in London's SouthKensington, rent for more than £570 per night, according to the company's website.

The deal could set a precedent in an age where "sharing economy" accommodationplatforms such as Airbnb and Wimdu are becoming increasingly powerful, according to Harry Douglass,associate director for hospitality with HVS Consulting.

"Theseare powerful distribution networks that have the potential to dilute a brandnetwork if companies like AccorHotels allow them to," he said in aninterview. For established hotel brands to ignore the rise of Onefinestay andits cohort would be "negligent," he said.

Butthis week's deal is not the first time that a traditional hotel brand hasinvested in an accommodation startup: Hyatt Hotels Corp. is one of Onefinestay's institutionalinvestors, having bought into the company during a 2014 funding round, aspreviously reported.  

TheOnefinestay acquisition is an interesting counterweight to AccorHotels'HotelInvest divisionwhich has been busy buying up hotels across the world, roughly €1 billion of deals in2015.  

"AccorHotelshas gone for quite an aggressive approach to buying property rather than optingfor an 'asset-light' strategy and a focus on expanding by franchise,"Douglass said.

AccorHotelshas a portfolio of nearly 500,000 hotel rooms across 92 countries, according tothe company's website.Brands range from the high-end Sofitel to the budget Ibis hotel and AdagioAparthotel chains.

Traditionalhotel brands are increasingly vigilant about the implications of the rise ofthe sharing economy, according to Joe Stather, information and intelligencemanager EMEA, CBRE Hotels. The trouble is, it's difficult to quantify theimpact.

"It'shard to know how many of the properties you see on Airbnb are active," Stathersaid in an interview.

"Anecdotally,when we speak to hotel managers on the ground, they say that where they feelthe impact is on occasions where there's a major event in town, such as aconference, when they would raise prices for the last few rooms remaining.We're hearing that consumers are less willing to pay the extra, because theymay be opting for Airbnb stays instead. Big events are definitely a driver forAirbnb."

Largecorporations are increasingly allowing their staff to stay in Airbnb propertiesrather than restricting them to hotels, he added.

TheOnefinestay deal may be a powerful example of how the sharing economy iskeeping traditional hotel companies on their toes. But the sharing economy isnot without its challenges, risks and uncertainties, Stather said:

"Thejury is still out on how legislation on consumer protection will settle,"said Stather. "There are questions around making sure the consumer issafe, and how renting out properties on a temporary basis impacts on mortgages,for example."

Airbnbhas already had its fair share of horror stories: An alleged assaulton a young Airbnb guest in a Madrid home stay, and a fatalityat a Texas property caused by the collapse of a rope swing.

Stathersaid that a survey at the International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin inMarch showed that most hotel owners do not see the sharing economy as a majorthreat due to some of its more obvious disadvantages:

"Froman owner's perspective, there's not great concern yet," he said."Brands have been focusing a lot on building consistency and controllingthe quality of the experience that people have. You don't know what you willget in the sharing economy."

However,one of the benefits to a global hotel brand of buying up an emerging platformsuch as Onefinestay is that it could help them to loosen the stranglehold thatonline travel agents such as TripAdvisor have over their businesses, he said.The travel agents have been developing "an increasing power over thebrands," he said.