Airbnb for work? We have delved into the pros and cons of Airbnb for business travel in the past, but the question of whether or not to make Airbnb part of a successful business travel program is a question travel buyers can no longer ignore. Airbnb may have gotten its start as a way for adventurous, world-traveling millennials to rent a couch in a stranger’s basement, but it has become much more than that. According to Airbnb, more than 500,000 companies around the world use Airbnb for Work. It's fair to stay that Airbnb has transformed the lodging market. Here are some of the things that corporate travel managers should consider when implementing Airbnb into their travel management programs.
Hotels vs. Airbnb for Business Travel? Here's What to Consider
The Airbnb concept is pretty simple. You scroll through available properties by destination and can then filter further by price, location, and amenities. You can view owner profiles and read reviews by other travelers, which is important for ensuring the actual experience at the location lines up with the property description. You can also ask owners questions about the property before renting it for the desired duration of time.
The answer to whether hotels or Airbnb properties are a better fit for your travel program depends on which one aligns best with your corporate travel goals and values. This could include factors such as:
- How will your negotiated rates be impacted by shifting nights from preferred hotels to Airbnb?
- How do I maintain duty-of-care by ensuring traveler safety and security?
- What business traveler-preferred amenities does each option offer?
- How does the Airbnb for Work system fit into our existing travel technology stack?
Airbnb for Work? Why Your Road Warriors May Say ‘Yes’
Airbnb for business trips is appealing, especially for companies that want to give business travelers more options when they’re on the road for work. Many Airbnb properties have adapted to the business traveler by offering amenities found in business class hotels such as:
- Wi-Fi and personal, private workspace
- Clean linens, towels and hairdryers
- Ease of booking, self check-in and flexible cancellation
Although many hotel properties are now starting to introduce new home-like experiences, what Airbnb can really provide that sets it apart is that feeling of home while you're on the road. An Airbnb property is likely to be slightly removed from major commercial centers. It may be found in a more residential area, with nearby businesses and restaurants that primarily cater to locals. It might have parking at the front door or nearby. It can give the frequent traveler that feeling of being at home, even if they're on the other side of the world.
Tip: Conducting a survey of your active travelers to learn their lodging preferences may help you determine whether or not to consider adding Airbnb as an in-policy option for select cities. If a significant portion of employees express interest in Airbnb, it may be worth a closer look.
Airbnb Savings for Business Travel
The biggest benefit for travel managers considering making Airbnb an option in their travel policies is the savings it may provide. Although cost is never the only factor when determining overall lodging program savings and value, a comparison of major cities shows that sometimes, Airbnb may be less expensive. That is the case with the following cities:
- Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Antwerp, Belgium
- Barcelona, Spain
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- London, UK
- Los Angeles, US
- New York City, US
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Rome, Italy
- San Francisco, US
- Sydney, Australia
- Toronto, Canada
- Washington, D.C., US
In a recent Forbes article analyzing data reported by the German hotel reservation website HRS, it was found that in eight of the globe’s most popular destinations, Airbnb offered savings over its hotel competitors. There is essentially no chance of experiencing “no vacancy” through the website.
This could be especially valuable to travelers attending large trade shows and doing global business in cities with major events going on such as the World Cup or the Olympics. Would it be more economical, for instance, to book a multi-room Airbnb property for a conference rather than a block of rooms at a business class hotel? The chart below shows average potential savings of booking through Airbnb.
You will find more infographics at Statista
Average room price per night in selected major cities in January 2018
Tip: If Airbnb isn’t approved as an option in your travel policy, another way to see if your employees want it is to analyze your non-compliant spend. Are your business travelers choosing it even when it isn’t approved? If so, where are they choosing Airbnb? Try to identify patterns in your travelers’ lodging choices. It could be that Airbnb properties offer amenities or conveniences that hotels in particular destinations don’t.
The Traveler Experience
One of the main features Airbnb touts is its ability to offer its travelers experience—“Work trips don’t have to be boring—make them extraordinary with Airbnb.” With its new Experiences feature and listings in unique settings around the world, Airbnb is able to offer activities and experiences to the business traveler such as adventure travel opportunities, cooking classes, history tours and more. This can be a great opportunity and value-added amenity to offer travelers as the desire for "bleisure" travel (combining business travel with personal travel) continues to increase. It can also extend beyond corporate transient travel to corporate retreats, extended stays, and relocations.
Airbnb Business Travel-Focused Offerings
Airbnb has added features to its system that show it is aggressively pursuing business travel. They now offer travel managers a dashboard to track nights booked, dates of travel and costs in one place. They offer multiple forms of payment to accommodate central billing, invoicing and reimbursing.
In addition, the search features within Airbnb allow business travelers to customize their search results for work travel via a simple toggle. Search results can be sorted based on social recommendations from past business travelers; even showcasing listings that receive the highest ratings
Airbnb also offers integrations, partnerships, and data sharing agreements with companies like WorldAware, UnitedHealthcare, and International SOS. Concur also offers embedded Airbnb listings within the online booking tool.
Risks Associated with Airbnb for business travel
With all the flexibility and options Airbnb offers, there are some unavoidable risks associated with allowing its use in your policy.
Safety, Security, and Duty of Care
The biggest concern many travelers and travel managers have is whether an Airbnb listing is safe. While the company has enacted safety and security measures to up its game, at the end of the day, you are still trusting that a stranger’s place of residence is a safe choice for accommodations.
Not only that, should Airbnb be allowed in company policy, travel managers need to accommodate for these types of stays in their risk management and duty of care procedures. Should the unthinkable happen in the city where you have a traveler staying at an Airbnb, would it be easier to locate them than if they were at a hotel? The answer to that isn’t clear, but definitely something to consider.
Another potential con of utilizing Airbnb is the uncertainty of the quality you are getting. While you can sometimes find yourself in a hotel room not quite as described, this risk increases with listings on Airbnb.
With no set check-in and -out times, amenities, instructions, etc. each listing follows its own rules and could be misrepresented by the host (although authenticity is one of the Community Standards Airbnb enacts). This also poses additional safety risks as it can be uncertain if listings have standard safety features such as smoke and CO2 detectors, fire extinguishers, and more. Note: a recent feature in Airbnb's search interface allows travelers to sort for properties that have these safety features.
Although you’re likely to find apartments and condos near areas of commerce in larger urban locations, because of their residential nature, many Airbnb locations are farther from office locations, public transit, etc. That can make travel times longer and transportation expenses higher. They’re also decentralized so if you’re traveling with colleagues and need to meet prior to a business meeting, it can be more difficult than if everyone was in the same hotel.
Hotel brands invest in market research to ensure they are located at optimal locations for business and leisure travelers alike. The same may not necessarily be true of every Airbnb listing.
The Bottom Line on Airbnb for Work and Business Travel
Airbnb is here to stay but even after more than ten years in business, many travel managers struggle with how it fits into their policy.
Getting away from the traditional business travel hotel for a night and staying in a home might not be a bad thing. There are a growing number of business travelers out there that are comfortable with Airbnb and want to make use of the service for both personal and business travel. However, there are still many unknowns and concerns with the platform.
Ultimately, you need to weigh the pros and cons alongside your company culture, travel trends and policy to decide if Airbnb is an option for your travelers.
We want to hear from you—Are you able to use Airbnb as an option in your travel program? Do the negatives outweigh the positives or do you think this is a real alternative for business travelers? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @TandTNews.