Whether it’s for business, leisure or a mixture of both, travelers generally select their accommodations based on two things: price and experience. More and more, they’re seeing Airbnb as a solution that ticks off both boxes.
From a price standpoint, the sharing economy marketplace often offers cheaper lodging than hotels. From an experience perspective, it also can be the more attractive choice for those craving a personal touch, explains Mark Haines, a consulting manager with Global Business Consulting, the advisory arm of American Express Global Business Travel (GBT).
“It’s not a homey feeling — it’s not your home, it’s someone else’s — but it can help you feel a bit more comfortable than if it were any other sort of bland, beige hotel room,” he explains of the Airbnb experience.
In the last few years, the number of organizations allowing employees to use Airbnb for business trips has exploded. According to a Bloomberg report, 250 companies were signed up with Airbnb in 2015. By April 2017, more than 250,000 companies were using it, including Alphabet Inc. (Google’s parent company), Domino’s Pizza Inc. and Morgan Stanley.
Realizing how much it can capitalize on corporate travel, Airbnb has been taking steps to make their platform more business-friendly with the rise of its Business Travel Ready (BTR) listings. These rentals are ones in which a guest has the entire place to themself (not sharing it with a stranger), include 24-hour check-in (i.e., they will be able to enter using a keypad, lockbox or can retrieve the key from a doorperson) and have reliable Wi-Fi connectivity. These BTR rentals only include homes that have earned more five-star ratings than average and are managed by hosts with a fast response time. They also are supposed to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (but who is checking that for sure, we don’t know).
Airbnb also is working to make it easier for travel managers (TM), rolling out a dashboard that allows them to schedule reservations, pay invoices and reimburse employees for their stays.
Additionally, Airbnb has teamed up with American Express GBT so that all booking information automatically gets shared and integrated with our reporting and duty of care platforms, enabling our clients to easily access the data and track their travelers’ whereabouts and expenses.
But there are a few drawbacks TMs should have on their radars. For example, because bookings are made directly on Airbnb’s site and not through the approved online booking tool, TMs do not have as much control over their travelers’ booking behavior.
There’s also more room for error. As Haines points out, mistakes can happen when business travelers reach the final step of confirming and booking the trip and are asked whether the trip is for leisure or business.
“You hope the majority of people gets that decision right, but it’s not always going to be the case,” he explains.
When a business traveler makes an error and checks it off as a leisure trip, the itinerary is not automatically sent to the travel management company (TMC). This will become an issue if some kind of crisis arises and the TMC/company is trying to locate and contact travelers.
The other thing TMs need to be aware of: When travelers search via the BTR site, it has the correct filters in place and only shows listings that meet the above-mentioned BTR requirements. However, as Haines explains, there’s nothing stopping business travelers from taking off those filters when directly booking on the site. It’s totally at their discretion, so TMs and companies need to educate their travelers about the importance of not touching the filters — that from a duty of care standpoint, employees should not be sharing the space with people they have never met before.
Haines believes one reason business travelers might be tempted to uncheck some of those filters is because of how few BTR listings there actually are, as he and his team discovered from a little experiment they did a few months back. They conducted manual searches within a five-mile radius of several office locations, searching for accommodations that were available two to three weeks in advance, which is when corporate travelers typically book. While there were plenty of regular Airbnb properties still available, there weren’t that many BTR options — a half-dozen at most for each location.
Haines also cautions TMs about the security of Airbnb rentals. Even when there’s a 24/7 doorperson on site, Airbnb lodging does not have the same level of security as a major hotel chain with an entire team who can respond to an emergency or break-in. He also warns about rentals that are accessible with a physical key, since it easily can be duplicated at the local hardware store for a few bucks. This actually was a big issue with the hotel industry in the 1990s and is why many properties did away with them. Today, most hotels either have electronic keycards or keyless entry that guests can use with their mobile phone.
Haines also wonders: If something were to occur, like a robbery or damage to the property, which party would be liable? The company that sent their employee or Airbnb?
These are the sort of questions he says TMs and stakeholders need to ask themselves when adopting an Airbnb policy.
For companies that wish to dip their toe in the Airbnb pool before diving in, Haines suggests they test it out in a few markets or with a group of travelers and iron out the kinks before launching worldwide.
And even for those who already have taken the Airbnb plunge, Haines recommends they “keep their ears wide open” about any new initiatives Airbnb plans to introduce and review their policy on a regular basis since things are changing very rapidly in this space.
“Just because you think you know Airbnb today doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same in six months’ time,” he concludes.