How will the sharing economy affect your travel policies?
Uber and AirBnB have disrupted the way we travel for leisure – are they now gearing up to disrupt the way we deliver business travel too? And what are the opportunities and risks of these sharing economy businesses for business travellers?
In 2014, AirBnB announced it would begin to directly target business travellers. A year later, announcing a 700% increase in business travel on the platform, AirBnB rolled the programme out globally and launched new booking tools for business travel managers.
It is easy to see the attraction for AirBnB in targeting the global business travel market: it was worth $302.7 billion in 2015 and is growing. But is AirBnB as attractive for business travellers?
We consider some of the aspects that Travel Managers need to consider when reviewing whether sharing economy providers such as Uber and AirBnB have a place within their Business Travel arrangements.
While some staff may enjoy the more flexible possibilities to create “blesiure” itineraries that AirBnB offers, it isn’t for everyone.
Having a group of colleagues sharing a property, during a trade conference or event for example, may be great for team building, but it allows for very little privacy or “off time”.
Solo travellers may be even more compromised. Having access to a room in a shared house creates all these problems, with the added concern of security and safety. The safety aspect isn’t solved by the option of booking a single occupancy apartment either; without the support of concierge staff, hotel security and other hotel services solo travellers may feel uncomfortable.
It is important that these preferences are fully considered, and staff given the flexibility required to prevent travel becoming unnecessarily stressful. If travel managers believe that these sharing economy providers have something valuable to offer their business travellers, they should be offered as additional choice (certainly at least at first) rather than a replacement.
When a hotel fails to deliver an essential business service, such as Wi-Fi, there is a known complaint and resolution procedure. The hotel chain is likely to have the resources and clout to get the problems addressed quickly for guests. A property manager in a private house will not have the same relationship with their telecoms provider – meaning increased risk of essential services being disrupted, unavailable or not restored quickly.
AirBnB has attempted to address some of these concerns, by requiring certain standards around services, customer service, guest reviews and response times for those properties achieving a “business travel ready” listing.
Value for Money
While AirBnB stays may seem cheap to leisure travellers when compared to some hotel prices, this isn’t always the case for business travellers who may be enjoying negotiated discounted rates of up to 30% or 40%.
Without the cost incentives to book sharing economy services, will your travellers be so keen to use them?
Duty of Care
Travel Managers need to understand how the use of these sharing economy suppliers fits within their existing duty of care policies. In London, for example, the local city Transport licensor, Transport for London, withdrew Uber’s licence to operate as a taxi firm following concerns that it was failing to address some serious concerns about workers’ right and passenger safety.
If the use of such sharing economy services jeopardises staff safety or other aspects of duty of care, Travel Managers will need to resist the calls for a relaxing of the rules around their use.
Development of Specific Policies
It is important for Travel Managers to consider the specific characteristics of the provider and services on offer. Introducing them as part of the Business Travel programme may require specific policies around the use of these services – either from a duty of care or a cost point of view. For example, you may wish to specify that when Uber’s surge pricing is in effect, travellers should use other approved local taxi or travel services instead.
These new sharing economy providers do offer opportunities for greater flexibility for business travellers and to make life more comfortable for them. However, Travel Managers need to be careful about how these opportunities are presented and carefully consider the policies around them before rolling them out to business travellers. For more information, speak with your Travel Counsellor.
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