SU professor challenges concerns toward homestay traveling with new business

Barbara Jones wants her home-sharing service StayBillety to foster meaningful relationships between hosts and guests.

A Syracuse University professor is joining the sharing economy with her budding homestay service that she hopes will fulfill a demand left unanswered by Airbnb and other competitors.

Barbara Jones, a television, radio and film professor, launched StayBillety in March 2016. Her company is an internet-based community accommodation service that connects guests with similar interests and hosts for home-sharing. Unlike Airbnb, whose business model is commission-based, StayBillety has an affinity-based billeting model: a partnership between a company and organization that gathers people with shared interests (known as the affinity group) to bring a larger consumer base.

“[StayBillety is] about reducing parried to participation because accommodation isn’t why people are always traveling,” Jones said. “We’re not trying to get into the vacation market.” Through the service, StayBillety aims to help students find roommates and travelers to find their ‘tribe’.

This year, a forecasted 30.9 million US adults will use sharing economy services at least once, eMarketer reports. In its survey of 4,787 American adults, the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of American adults have used at least one shared and on-demand service.

Because of its convenience and connectivity, StayBillety been able to exploit and carve out its own niche within the sharing economy driven market. Beyond what it offers to consumers, there’s a greater incentive to operating the startup. Online ventures like StayBillety are also cost-efficient businesses to run internally, according to Michael D’Eredita, assistant professor of practice at SU’s School of Information Studies.

“The value of [digital businesses] is that they are scalable and the cost businesses are low,” D’Eredita said. “You can absorb that failure because the cost of that failure is lower than some product business when you’re dumping all this money into specific product.”

Share-based platforms are weaving their way into the new digital economy, but Jones saw that companies like AirBnb and HomeAway were missing one crucial aspect: a sense of community.

“There’s a world of people out there who don’t want a stranger in their home, and don’t want to stay with a stranger,” Jones said. She added that with StayBillety centering home-sharing around events or organizations, “there’s something that you have in common that creates that bond and an expectation of trust.”

By pairing its affinity model with local events, StayBillety will increase involvement by engaging both local hosts and visiting guests. People traveling for concerts, commencements and sports competitions can book local accommodations based on hosts with shared interests.

StayBillety recruits event organizers as affiliates, reducing barriers to participation. Affiliates receive a portion of each booking through the site using a unique affiliate code. Since its launch a year ago, StayBillety has engaged 11 official affiliates, including Run Ottawa and Ryerson University, Jones’ alma mater. Jones leveraged her relationship with the university to form a partnership with StayBillety to provide students with more affordable, short-term housing. Launched last month, the partnership allows students to book short-term housing in the Ryerson community located in downtown Toronto.

"StayBillety really offers an amazing opportunity for students who commute from home and occasionally want to stay downtown for a game or a late-night show with their friends,” said Katrina Persad, Ryerson’s off-campus housing facilitator. Ryerson’s off-campus housing office has extensively promoted StayBillety at its annual fair and four out-of-residence sessions, where an approximate 800 students learned about StayBillety’s offerings.

Given the majority of Ryerson’s student population commutes, Persad said reception on campus has been positive. The partnership also provides students who live downtown the opportunity to rent out an additional couch or bed for extra money.

Since its launch last March, students have maintained a cornerstone influence in the company. Jones has enlisted over 80 SU students of multiple disciplines to help with the company’s operations in public relations, design and business development.

“When people dabble in some piece of StayBillety they can say they’ve worked for an international company,” Jones said.

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