The burgeoning online
"sharing economy" -- sites and apps that connect consumers for the purpose of procuring various goods and services -- increasingly is making inroads into the corporate travel and meetings markets. Lodging marketplace Airbnb and car service app Uber each had a presence on the trade show floor at the Global Business Travel Association Convention in Los Angeles, held July 27-30, and both introduced new corporate travel partnerships.
Airbnb has teamed up with travel and expense company Concur. Those who use Concur's TripLink service now can book Airbnb lodging via their corporate travel site and have the charges prepopulate their expense reports. Airbnb also has debuted a search portal tailored to business travel on its own site.
For its part, car service app Uber launched Uber for Business, allowing business travelers who use the service to bill their companies directly. Travel administrators get the centralized billing and gain access to usage data. Uber also has partnered with Concur in order to prepopulate expense reports, and as of this fall it will join the American Express Membership Rewards program, offering double points for Uber rides as well as the ability to pay for those rides with points. In addition, the company has enabled suppliers such as United Airlines and Sabre's TripCase to integrate its service into their own apps.
The site Roomer, which facilitates the resale of prepaid hotel rooms, did not exhibit at the convention but did release some news of its own. The company, which previously worked primarily with travelers who had purchased nonrefundable hotel rooms but were unable to use them, launched the Roomer Partner Network. Through RPN, planners with unused rooms in purchased blocks can resell the rooms at a reduced rate, thereby recouping funds and possibly avoiding attrition or cancellation penalties. Roomer takes a 15 percent cut of any sales, which serves as a strong incentive for the company to help planners unload those rooms.
Planners have been enthusiastic about the new service, noted Roomer's U.S. managing director, Richie Karaburun, at the convention. Roomer had been piloting the service with several clients for about five months prior to the official launch.
All of the above generated a good deal of buzz at the convention, and a mixed reaction from the more traditional travel suppliers in attendance, some of whom raised concerns about duty-of-care issues. "It's like every new technology," Karaburun pointed out. "There are early adopters, later adopters and never adopters."