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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Uber, Airbnb Optimizing User Experience Through Smart Partnerships

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear some mention of “the sharing economy” these days, partly because of continued smart moves from the companies creating and riding the wave.First, on-demand ride service Uber recently announced a partnership with hotel chain Hilton Worldwide to help “make travel seamless” through new app features.

First, on-demand ride service Uber recently announced a partnership with hotel chain Hilton Worldwide to help “make travel seamless” through new app features.

Ride Reminders’ can be set through Hilton reservation e-mails before a stay, to notify the user on the day of travel to request an Uber ride to the hotel. And soon, Hilton HHonors members will also have access to a ‘Local Scene’ feature for 20 U.S. cities in their Hilton HHonours app. The feature identifies and recommends local destinations that are visited the most by Uber riders.

Rich DiStefano, Senior Director of Mobile Products at Hilton Worldwide, said of the partnership, “We’re helping travelers explore destinations like they’re locals. This is the first time any company has leveraged Uber riders’ most frequented destinations to provide local recommendations. We’re excited to offer these unique benefits for our loyal guests.”

This latest move from Uber comes amidst continued controversy over the service, with recent court decisions further challenging Uber’s business model.

Last week in San Francisco, three Uber drivers were granted class-action status for their lawsuit claiming the company treats drivers like employees without offering benefits, and avoiding costs associated with payroll taxes.

Uber rejected the notion that there is a “typical driver,” since “partners use Uber on their own terms.”

The class size is estimated at less than 15,000, although Uber has about 160,000 drivers in California.

Rulings which apply to individual Uber drivers have been indecisive; some have concluded they are independent contractors, while others have classified them as employees. The most recent decision in California determined the driver was an employee.

The precedent could be an expensive lesson for Uber; other sharing economy companies, such as courier service Shyp, have already announced they will convert their contract workers into full-fledged employees. Uber is also facing a challenge from competitor Lyft, which recently closed a $2.5 billion valuation funding round.

Meanwhile, home-sharing startup Airbnb’s goal is to become the first community-driven superbrand.

“The world understands superbrands — it understands the Apples, the Nikes, the Coca-Colas, the Disneys,” Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall recently told Fast Company. “And the world kind of understands community-driven brands — football clubs, that kind of thing - but those are never as iconic as the superbrands. What we’re trying to do is bring these two things together in a way that has never been done before: Develop this iconic brand that is instantly recognizable but has also got a universal understanding. One that has this beautiful, universal ideology at its heart but is actually created and lived by the millions and millions of people who’ve got their fingerprints all over Airbnb.”

The transformation from being a property listings company into a culturally driven brand began last year, when Mildenhall was hired and Airbnb had a brand relaunch with a new logo and its “Belong Anywhere” slogan.

Last month, Airbnb hired its first-ever head of global policy, Chris Lehane, to help its “people-to-people platform” become a force for meaningful change.

"People care about where they live, the world they live in. And those people are willing to change to impact their actions," Lehane said.

According to Lehane, Airbnb is particularly well-equipped to impact income inequality and climate change. After all, the company was founded in 2008 and allowed users to rent out spare rooms to budget-wary travellers. Wealthy and commercial customers have begun using the platform since, but Lehane says that “well over 50 percent of users who are hosting are middle-class folks who are saying they are hosting to supplement their income.”

He also noted that using Airbnb curbs emissions generated by the hospitality industry, saying, "You have less of a carbon impact because you're using pre-existing housing and making incredibly efficient use of space that already exists.”

Airbnb also recently announced a partnership with Tesla Motors to install electric vehicle charging stations at select Airbnb rental locations.