The sharing economy: Airbnb and business travel

March 30, 2015 |

Airbnb and Business Travel

The-Sharing-Economy-AirBnB-and-Business-TravelSince 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 renter reviews and book the listing of your choosing. Prices depend solely on the poster’s discretion and there are currently more than 25 million Airbnb users in more than 34,000 cities from nearly 200 countries around the world. The money is always handled by Airbnb itself, so neither party shares any financial information with the other. But while the company works well for a college student looking to crash somewhere during spring break, where does the service fit when it comes to business travelers?

Suitable for business travel? 

The potential for Airbnb as a reliable source for business travel lodging is obvious. The service comes in handy for a variety of scenarios, ranging from searching for a less expensive place to stay to finding an open room when every other hotel in town is completely booked.

“Several companies have already publicly announced partnerships with Airbnb for business travel.”

In 2014, Airbnb unveiled a new initiative calling for more companies to start using its services for business travel. Airbnb even joined forces with Concur, a corporate online booking and expense management provider, to help alter its perception among businesses as a “risky” option for travel accommodations. Several companies have already publicly announced partnerships with AirBnB for business travel, including Eventbrite, Salesforce and Evernote.

Insurance & Security Scrutiny 

There are currently several factors, primarily safety and insurance, which continue to be proven obstacles the booming company is still trying to overcome.

Airbnb states on their website that “Trust is what makes us work.” Obviously, when you’re booking a room through the service, you’re planning on staying at a stranger’s home. On the flipside, the owner is also letting someone they don’t know sleep in their home. Airbnb offers three primary features that help ease any discomfort with this notion:

  • A verified ID system that provides everything from confirming users’ own personal driver’s licenses to linking to their social media accounts.
  • A required profile for both parties that displays all their reviews from previous Airbnb transactions.
  • The ability for both users to message each other to answer any questions and try to get to know one another better

In terms of security and protection, Airbnb has some definite questions. Most of the safety issues are geared toward the host as there have been documented reports of guests burglarizing and causing extensive damage. The real fragility of AirBnB’s future relies more on the ambiguity of its terms of service. The service may not even be legal in certain cities due to zoning requirements – New York City is a good example.

Airbnb recommends that travelers using their service purchase their own travel insurance to protect them should an emergency occur while traveling. While this advice is sound, what guarantees are there that an Airbnb lodging is safe and secure beyond those safeguards mentioned above? Are there facilities for protecting valuables? What happens if there is severe weather? Are there appropriate smoke and fire protections in place should a fire occur? Simply put, Airbnb hosts are not held to the same standard that hotels are in terms of managing traveler safety.

“Despite the savings, it’s difficult to know for sure what to expect when booking a room with Airbnb.”

Quality and Value

A study by Priceonomics deemed that renting a private room through Airbnb can be nearly 50 percent cheaper than booking a hotel room, and 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.

Despite the savings, it’s difficult to know for sure what to expect when booking a room with Airbnb. Trustpilot, a website devoted to posting and calculating user customer service ratings, recently listed the overall satisfaction rating for Airbnb at a 2.5 out of a possible 10 points, based on more than 600 reviews. In addition, the money saved by the lower room rate might be offset by higher transportation costs. Hotels are usually found in more commercial areas – the likely destination of most business travelers. Hotels are also more likely to be close to public transportation and commonly-traveled taxi routes. Many hotels also provide free or low-cost local shuttle services. Your Airbnb host will probably not have such amenities.

Lower costs may not always be the most important factor either. Using a company-preferred hotel property, even if the rate is somewhat higher than an Airbnb room, could still have a more significant impact on the overall bottom line of the travel program. Additional amenities may also be negotiated into that hotel rate that would probably cost you extra otherwise.

Conclusions

Despite its drawbacks, Airbnb is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. Warren Buffet even recommended the service to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders for their upcoming annual meeting. 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.

Here are three tips for travelers using Airbnb responsibly in a business travel setting:

  1. Use Airbnb as a viable lodging option only after more traditional options are considered.
  2. Understand the risks. No matter how awesome those Airbnb accommodations look, remember that it isn’t a hotel and isn’t necessarily subject to the same regulations, quality and safety standards.
  3. Be mindful of your Airbnb room’s location. How far are you from the office? From the airport? Will you really save money if transportation options are limited?

What do you think? 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? We’d love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments or tweet us @TandTNews.

Next in our sharing economy series we will take a look at Uber and Lyft.