by Michael J. Shapiro | October 01, 2015
Airbnb, the seven-year-old online platform that's used all over the world to rent houses, apartments and even spare rooms, has been valued at more than $25 billion. Between the end of May and early September of this year, nearly 17 million people stayed at Airbnb properties worldwide -- that's 353 times the number of guests who used Airbnb in the summer months of 2010.
Throughout this astronomical growth period, the platform has retained its share of travel-adventure whimsy: Of the 17 million guests this summer, more than 10,000 stayed in tree houses, 12,000 chose yurts and almost 13,000 overnighted in castles. A fair number of travel managers and meeting professionals have questioned just how much this hospitality disruptor in the so-called sharing economy has to do with business.

Actually, quite a bit, says Marc McCabe, who heads the Airbnb for Business platform. About 10 percent of Airbnb guests are business travelers, he estimates, and corporations are eager to understand and manage that spend. Within 24 hours of announcing Airbnb's new global travel-management suite and dashboard for business travel in July, some 500 companies had signed up for the program, which offers central billing and, most importantly, data and visibility into traveler itineraries. The number of member companies now exceeds 1,000.

A study of expense reports appears to confirm Airbnb's growing influence in the business world. According to expense giant Concur, the number of Airbnb stays reported by clients increased fourfold last year alone. While Concur wouldn't divulge details, McCabe estimates Airbnb stays could account for 5 to 15 percent of lodging spend at a large enterprise, and as much as 25 to 30 percent at smaller businesses with 200 to 300 employees.

"It's obvious that business travelers are using us to a very high degree," notes McCabe, who says that realization led to the creation of Airbnb's business platform. "We just want to make sure that it isn't creating any issues for travel managers," he adds.

A head for business
According to McCabe, who shares his own San Francisco apartment via the platform, Airbnb is actively courting the business market. "We love having business travelers," he says. "They're a lot easier than leisure travelers. Leisure travelers have so many questions. Business travelers just want to know if the Wi-Fi is working."  

The business-travel platform now offers integration with Concur expense reporting, as well as with risk-

management services from International SOS. Plans call for incorporating company-specific features for clients, such as the ability to highlight Airbnb hosts who work for the company, or to share employee reviews of properties across a company's traveler base.

A number of travel managers attending the Global Business Travel Association Convention in Orlando this past July admitted that their companies still have no official policy either endorsing or discouraging use of Airbnb. Still, if business travelers are using the platform regardless, managers have little to lose in signing up to receive reports. The corporate dashboard is free and sets up in minutes; employees simply need to opt in via their work email addresses. The ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, Google and technology supplier Twilio are among the many companies that have signed on.