will airbnb disrupt the hotel business or just play on the sidelines?

It’s the question that’s increasingly on hoteliers’ minds: are sites like Airbnb a competitive threat or simply niche players that will continue to play on the sidelines? From the recent headlines about Airbnb moving into Cuba to reports about business travelers increasingly turning to alternative accommodations, it certainly seems that it’s a question we should all be examining.

A new report from Boston University (view report) indicates the industry should be taking Airbnb seriously. The research, which bills itself as the first real study of the effects of the sharing economy on the travel industry, concludes that Airbnb is indeed “significantly changing consumption patterns … and has quantifiable negative impact on the local hotel room revenue.”

More specifically, the researchers estimate that Airbnb’s entrance into the Austin, Texas, market has caused a 13 percent decrease in hotel revenue and an 8 percent decline in room rates.

The researchers used data collected from Airbnb from 2008 to 2014 and monthly hotel room revenue data from some 4,000 hotels in Texas dating back to 2003.

The analysis found that each 10 percent increase in Airbnb’s supply in Texas resulted in a .035 percent decrease in hotel room revenue, with Austin feeling the biggest pinch as one of Airbnb’s largest markets.

While the researchers said they found a definite impact on revenue, they found no “statistically significant connection between increased Airbnb listings and occupancy.”

“This suggests that affected hotels actively responded to Airbnb entry by lowering their prices,” the report said.

Not surprisingly, the lower priced hotels and those not catering to business travelers were most affected.

The good news: the study found no impact – yet – on occupancy.

The researchers noted this is the first real study of its kind, and much more analysis has to be done to really gauge the impact of the sharing economy on travel.

But as Airbnb has now reached a scale of tens of millions of room nights, the Boston University report says, it “certainly has the potential to meaningfully and measurably impact revenue at the most vulnerable of hotels.”