While the term sharing economy might seem like a concept new to the 21st century, the practice has deep roots throughout the history of our society. For example, think of the library you frequented as a child to check out the latest from Judy Blum, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis or J.K. Rowling. What has changed over time is how the practice is used and how accessible this economy is due to the rise of the internet and mobile technology. Now, at the tip of your finger, you can hail a car and book a nights’ stay. With the rise in accessibility and popularity, many companies wonder how this sharing economy fits in to their travel policies, specifically Airbnb.
Since 2008, Airbnb has risen from a few guys renting extra mattresses out to desperate travelers to one of the most lucrative lodging companies in the industry. How it works is simple: You can scroll through various profiles of users in your desired location, scan everything from pictures to prices and previous user reviews and book the listing of your choosing. Prices depend solely on the poster’s discretion. There are currently more than 4 million Airbnb listings in more than 65,000 cities from nearly 200 countries around the world—which equates to more than the top five hotel chains combined. The money is always handled by Airbnb itself, so neither party shares any financial information with the other.
But while the company has proven to work well for vacation travelers, where does the service fit when it comes to business travelers? We want to share some pros and cons of Airbnb so you can make the most informed decision on whether allowing your corporate travelers to stay at an Airbnb listing is right for your company.
There is no denying Airbnb has definite pros over some of the more traditional accommodation options.
Quality and Value
Probably the most compelling reason to utilize Airbnb within a corporate travel program is the quality and value of booking through the platform. 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 (or here in our HQ city, Omaha, Berkshire Hathaway). 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
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 their new Experiences feature and listings in unique settings around the world, Airbnb is able to offer many experiences traditional hotels can’t. This benefit extends beyond corporate transient travel and really shines when it comes to corporate retreats, extended stays and relocations.
New Business-focused Offerings
Airbnb has really been going after business travel with recent features added to their system. They now offer travel managers a dashboard to track nights booked, dates of travel and costs in one place. They offer different forms of payment to accommodate for central billing, invoicing and reimbursing. And possibly the most beneficial partnership they’ve announced is their venture with Concur Travel, offering embedded listings within the online booking tool. They also have integrations, partnerships and data-sharing agreements with iJET, UnitedHealthcare, International SOS and Concur TripLink.
With all the flexibility and options Airbnb offers, there are some unavoidable risks associated with allowing its use in your policy.
Safety and Security
The biggest concern faced is whether using 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, etc.
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.
Airbnb is here to stay but even after 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 all 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.