Florian Zach

When Airbnb arrived on the marketplace in 2008, no one was sure what to make of the community-driven hospitality company. In fact, much of the early buzz surrounding the online startup centered more on the unique manner Airbnb’s founders were earning seed money—selling cereal inspired by presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain during the run-up to the 2008 election—rather than the business’s potential impact on the hospitality industry.

Fast-forward to 2018 and the number of listings on Airbnb—four million—was more than the top five major hotel brands combined. Furthermore, a recent study published by Tourism Management has shown that Airbnb’s growth over the last 10 years has resulted in a 2% decrease in RevPAR, or revenue per available room, across all hotel segments.

The impact that Airbnb has had on the hospitality industry cannot be ignored. However, what impact has Airbnb had on publicly traded hospitality companies—specifically, those companies that have attempted to beat Airbnb at its own game? That is one of the questions that Florian Zach’s research will attempt to answer.

“I want to understand how the stock market rewards or punishes publicly traded firms based on how they have reacted to Airbnb,” explained Zach, assistant professor in the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Zach’s research has focused on modernization within the hospitality industry. “I look at innovations in tourism and hospitality from different angles,” he explained. “Technology is relevant for business to remain successful and relevant in the market.

“There are a lot of cutting-edge aspects of the industry which I, personally, find exciting.”

For Zach, a company like Airbnb, whose mere existence has disrupted an entire industry, presents a veritable goldmine of untapped research potential.

“A lot of buzz surrounded Airbnb in the beginning—it was something shiny and new,” he explained. “I initially started to examine Airbnb to investigate reviews to find what amenities were relevant to the patrons.”

As Zach dug deeper into his research, he began to wonder how traditional hospitality providers were reacting to the growth of Airbnb. Did they develop new products or brands to compete directly with Airbnb? Or did they attempt to purchase companies like Airbnb? If so, did these actions impact, either positively or negatively, the company’s stock price. With those questions, a research project was born.

“I want to find an explanation for the different phenomenon in the marketplace,” he explained. “I strive to understand them better so others—students and entrepreneurs alike—may learn from it.”

Zach joined Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business in 2018, most recently serving in the Carson College of Business at Washington State University as the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Faculty Fellow. Much of his extensive knowledge of the hospitality industry came through his work as assistant manager of the Hotel Zach, which is owned and operated by his family in his native Innsbruck, Austria.

Throughout his research, Zach has uncovered further questions, such as how the hospitality industry’s interaction with Airbnb has changed over the last decade.

“Some companies, in the beginning, lauded the service while others called them a fun experiment to watch before they ultimately launched their competing products,” he explained. “It’s interesting to see how different companies frame the discussion of Airbnb. Every company has its narrative.”

It sounds as though Zach may have found his next project.

— Written by Jeremy Norman