Over the last several years the so-called sharing economy has, quite simply, exploded. Rides on bikes, in cars, and on planes are being shared. Private rooms and even entire apartments and homes are being opened to the public. And, with the lines between work and private life blurring more by the day for Millennial and Generation X employees, the share economy is entering the business travel industry with full force.
Crossing the chasm
According to VP Digital Traveler at American Express Global Business Travel Evan Konwiser, now that certain sharing economy travel providers, such as the ride-sharing service Uber™ and accommodations provider Airbnb™, have achieved a critical mass in terms of influence, travel managers are taking notice. “Five years ago, staying in someone’s primary home or hiring someone to drive you in their own car on demand may have seemed a little weird to some,” Konwiser says. “But now that it’s the norm, companies have the credibility to say, ‘People are doing this. Can we bring these options into our travel program?’ ”
And that’s just what’s happening. “In the last few years certain providers have crossed the chasm, so to speak, into common parlance and usage and have forced the hand of travel managers to address them in the context of their travel programs,” says Konwiser.
A balancing act
But as travel managers endeavor to meet the demands of their travelers, they must do so without compromising their organizations’ duty of care for employees. Not all sharing economy providers are created equal in this regard, according to Konwiser. “I would put the ground category and the accommodations category in two very different buckets in terms of applicability, appropriateness, maturity, and risk to a travel program,” Konwiser says. “People often use Airbnb and Uber in the same breath. Conceptually, there’s a similarity. But in reality they represent extremely different risk profiles and relevance profiles for corporate travel today.”
For Uber, Konwiser says, “The ship has sailed. Travelers have already been using it for years. And because taxis and ground are generally the most unregulated part of a corporate travel program, the uptick in travelers’ usage of the service during business trips has been significant.
On the other hand, Airbnb and the accommodations category of a travel program are very different. Airbnb itself “is very nascent in business travel for large companies,” according to Konwiser. “Companies have been more reluctant to fully endorse it because of the duty of care concerns relative to a big flag hotel.”
Comfort on the horizon
As companies recognize the potential for boosting traveler satisfaction and driving savings by using Airbnb, however, signs of a shift in attitudes toward the service are showing up in corporate world. In fact, Konwiser says, American Express Global Business Travel customers have begun to make Airbnb an option for travelers and implementing duty of care by integrating travelers’ Airbnb reservation data into their programs. Will this use of share providers in the corporate travel space continue to rise? Konwiser offers this forecast “More can be done to improve corporate traveler comfort, and I suspect that it will happen in the coming quarters.”