by Loren G. Edelstein | July 20, 2017
Like it or not, business travelers and meeting-goers are using economy-sharing platforms for lodging. "It's absolutely necessary that you build a policy, even if you haven't as a company accepted companies like Airbnb," said Ray Greeve, corporate vice president of travel for New York Life Insurance Co., during a panel discussion at the Global Business Travel Association's annual convention in Boston this week. "Look at your own expense data," he suggested. "I guarantee your people are using it."
 
The steady uptick in users includes conference attendees, noted Jason Beckham, who handles business development for Airbnb. In fact, per his analysis, 197 attendees of the GBTA convention booked Airbnb stays for the event, at average rate of $96 per night -- much less than group rates at designated convention hotels, most of which were in the $300 range. Another 40 Airbnb representatives also booked via the platform for their GBTA stays.
 
While many travelers have embraced the concept, some education might be required among senior managers, said Greeve. "They're actually thinking you're sleeping in a room in someone's apartment. You have to do a lot of communication to make them understand."
 
While the platform originally targeted leisure travelers -- many of whom are happy to crash on someone's couch -- Airbnb has since refined its offerings for the corporate market. To date, the platform has 3 million homes in more than 65,000 cities in 191 countries and has welcomed more than 200 million guests. Beckham, who joined the company in April 2015 to forge inroads in the corporate world, saw a need to curate the inventory to identify properties that would be "business ready" -- meaning in part that a guest would be renting the entire unit, not a spare room in someone's home.
 
"You've seen our commercials; you know we've got tree houses," he said. "You probably don't want your business travelers in tree houses." The inventory was first narrowed to 2 million that are rented as entire homes or apartments. "From there, we identified our best properties, which we call 'Business-Travel Ready.'" That collection of 200,000 units meets a number of service and safety standards distinct from other Airbnb properties.
 
For transparency and traveler access, a dashboard allows registered business clients to see their employees' bookings and locations. The platform is integrated with Carlson Wagonlit Travel, BCD Travel and American Express Global Business Travel, as well as risk-management companies iJET International and International SOS. Airbnb also just announced an integration with the Concur Travel platform that will allow Airbnb options to appear alongside traditional hotel choices.
 
To date, companies that have partnered for Airbnb for Business include Salesforce, Levi's, Amazon, Google, Meritor, Facebook, Morgan Stanley and PayPal. And the traveler base is highly engaged: 74 percent of business travelers leave a review of their accommodations, said Beckham, bestowing an average rating of 4.7 stars.
 
Addressing safety and security concerns, Airbnb employs more than 300 "trust and safety experts" across the world, responsible for risk scoring, data privacy and cyber-security analyses, scam prevention, home-safety inspections, insurance reviews and 24/7 global-incident response.
 
Meritor Inc., a Troy, Mich.-baed Fortune 500 company that manufactures auto components, is the latest convert, having named Airbnb a global preferred supplier on June 13. "We evaluated a lot of the services out there, but Airbnb was the only one that met the level of security that we were looking for," said Jack Reynaert, manager, global travel and meetings. "We had to figure out a way to communicate to our travelers on what would make sense for our corporation."
 
In launching the program, said Reynaert, "We sent a well-crafted announcement to over 2,500 employees in 19 countries, saying, 'We are never going to require you to stay at a home property, but if you do, we want you to use Airbnb.' In some cases, we had people who did not read the well-crafted plan. I had someone come up and ask, 'What are you telling me to do?' We're not telling you to do anything. If you're not comfortable, stay in a hotel."
 
The partnership offers more options for business travelers and meeting attendees, and it's a particularly creative option for small meetings, Reynaert said. He also expects that human resources will take advantage of Airbnb stays for employee relocations. "We already had a policy that you can only stay at approved vendors, so by adding Airbnb as an approved vendor, we didn't have to change our policy," he noted. "And we know people are staying only at the properties that are 'Business-Travel Ready.'"
 
Given concerns about safety and security regarding home sharing, "the switch to condoning Airbnb is a bit nerve-wracking for us," Reynaert admitted. "But from everything I've learned, they have made me feel a little bit more at ease as a corporation. They have shown us they take business travel seriously and have given us the proper tools to meet our duty of care."
 
Working directly with associations, including GBTA, is a goal for Airbnb, confirmed Jason Beckham. Ideally, Airbnb would be listed along with hotels within the designated housing options. "We're having good conversations with GBTA about making Airbnb part of the GBTA program," he said. "I think we're on a good path. As a GBTA member, we want organizations we're invested in to be leaders in the space that we operate in. I think Airbnb is a good example of where we have some unique opportunities with GBTA."