Corporate Travel: To Airbnb or Not to Airbnb?

True to its name, the travel industry never stands still for very long. Airbnb is just one example of how quickly a new service can come out of nowhere and completely alter the way people travel.

As new services like Airbnb emerge, travel managers have to decide how their corporate travel policies will address the latest trends in travel.

How Companies Leverage Airbnb

Since its launch in 2008, Airbnb has grown at an astounding rate. In under a decade, more than 200 million guests have used the service. More recently, the organization has increasingly focused on developing corporate-centric services. According to Johnny Jet, travel expert and Forbes contributor, the number of companies that use Airbnb for business travel grew from 250 in 2015 to 250,000 in 2017.

Ease of use has always been one of Airbnb's main selling points. Signing up for a business account is free, and travel managers can easily create business profiles for their companies. Likewise, individual employees can sign up for personal business accounts on their own.

Employees who want to extend their business trips an extra day or two for a relaxing mini-vacation may find Airbnb more flexible than traditional hotels. Likewise, there's much more variety among Airbnb listings. Rather than stay in a hotel room that looks and feels like every other hotel room they've ever stayed in, travelers can book an apartment a few streets away from downtown or a guest home with extra amenities. Often, these listings can be more affordable than standard hotel rates.

These conveniences are what make Airbnb an attractive alternative to standard personal or corporate travel bookings, but they also present challenges for travel managers. If Airbnb isn't properly integrated into your organization's travel policy, you could lose transparency into travel spend and open up your company to duty of care risks.

Why Your Travel Policy Should Address Airbnb

As Airbnb's business services have evolved, it's become easier for travel managers to centralize billing, track employees and produce expense reports. In fact, booking with the home sharing service is now comparable to booking with a traditional hotel supplier.

By establishing and tracking travel metrics, you can determine if it makes sense to include Airbnb in your travel policy. Consider asking for input from frequent travelers to learn how they feel about the service. A report from Goldman Sachs, obtained by Bloomberg, found that younger employees may feel more comfortable booking on Airbnb than older workers. The report also showed that people who try crowdsourced accommodations are more likely to prefer them in the future. If your organization's policy allows for alternative accommodations, then you'll need to establish an efficient, foolproof and compliant booking system as the number of people using these services inevitably increases.

Compared to a hotel, Airbnb listings do present unique duty of care challenges. As such, your organization's travel policy should not only include general provisions for Airbnb stays; there should also be a detailed list of acceptable accommodations.

For instance, some listings may not provide their complete street address until a few days before the trip, which could make it difficult for travel managers to track traveler locations in case of an emergency. Developing a system for logging and tracking addresses is essential. Likewise, the policy should encourage travelers to book listings that have been highly rated for safety. Airbnb regularly screens its hosts against regulatory and criminal databases, but no system is ever perfect. Reviews can help travelers make informed, safe booking decisions.

As Airbnb services more businesses directly, it will become a long-term option for corporate travel managers. Your organization should form a strategy for Airbnb and other up-and-coming providers of peer-to-peer accommodations. Your travelers should have thorough knowledge of which options are on policy, which are not and why.

Want to gain a better understanding of how Airbnb can fit into your corporate travel policy? Connect with an expert at Direct Travel today to learn more.