Travel Weekly's 2017 Business Travel Report

Home-sharing companies are making inroads into business travel

When Airbnb launched in 2008, the first three guests who stayed with founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia were business travelers who were in San Francisco to attend a design conference.

However, as the home-sharing platform  and the sharing economy in general  took off, Airbnb's growth was largely driven by vacationers, who used the site to find home-based accommodations for leisure trips around the globe.

"Before we really put a heavy focus on it, [business travel] was in the single digits as a percentage of trips or nights," said David Holyoke, global head of business travel at Airbnb.

Over the last two years, the company has made growing business travel on the platform a priority, and it has developed new tools for both corporate travelers and travel planners designed to help do just that.

"When you look at the business travel experience, there hasn't been anyone that's really trying to change the quality of the experience," Holyoke said. "Where we really saw the opportunity was to create a really unique and different experience" that would help companies manage employee travel and help travelers make the most of their time on the road.

"As we've started to build heavily for that the last 24 months, [business travel] growth has accelerated," Holyoke said. "Last year it was about a [three times] growth for the company, and this year should be about a [four times] growth."

Today, he said, corporate travel accounts for 11% of stays booked on Airbnb and 15% of nights.

While hotels have historically been the standard accommodations for corporate travelers, interest in and use of home-sharing for business travel is on the rise. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) does research into the interests of business travelers and has seen growing enthusiasm for home-based accommodations.

In the group's most recent study, 17% of business travelers reported being "very interested" in using home-based accommodations, such as those offered on Airbnb or Onefinestay. That figure grows to 30% if those who said they were "interested" are included.

"We do look at it year over year, and we do see it going up," said GBTA vice president of research Jeanne Liu.

"Interest is there for business travel specifically."

While the GBTA hasn't done any studies on the reasons travel managers or business travelers select a home over a traditional hotel, anecdotally, Liu said, "We've heard from members that it depends on which city they're going to. Supply is an issue in certain areas."

There are also specific scenarios in which a typical king room might not be the best choice for an employee on the road.

Alexandra Rethore, chief revenue officer for Onefinestay, said the high-end home rental company focuses on a couple of key segments within the corporate travel universe, including extended-stay business travel, relocations, travel with colleagues or family or working off-sites. Onefinestay business guests value the flexibility of homes to host events, meetings or product launches, in addition to providing comfy workspaces and a place to relax after hours, she added.

"We're not trying to replace hotels," Holyoke said of Airbnb's approach to business travel. "We're really focused on where it's not working and what are the use cases. We have obvious reasons where we think home sharing works well in a business travel sense, whether that be bleisure, whether that be for relocation, extended stay, project-based work, team travel."

Between a quarter and a third of Onefinestay bookings currently fall into the business travel category.

"It's actually an uptick from what we've seen historically," Rethore said. "We typically had about 20% of our business that was considered business travel, and often that was booked through travel agents. We've really focused our time and energy not only on maintaining our relationships with travel agents as part of the consortium networks that we work with, including Virtuoso, Signature and Ensemble, but also cultivating new relationships."

All Onefinestay properties are curated and vetted for a luxury experience, offering baseline amenities typical of hotels like WiFi, in-person check-in and high-quality sheets and towels.

Airbnb has similarly launched a subset of properties dubbed "business travel ready" homes, which have consistent amenities like reliable WiFi, 24-hour check-in, standard safety features and hotel-style conveniences like hangers, an iron, soap and shampoo.

From a company standpoint, Airbnb created a corporate dashboard that enables travel managers to keep track of where employees are traveling, upcoming trips and past bookings, as well as offering payment groups and centralized billing. Holyoke said Airbnb has integrated with duty of care providers like IJet and United Healthcare to ensure that home-based bookings match the duty of care practices and procedures a company has for other travel.

That last development may be the most crucial in terms of converting more travel managers and companies to consider home-based accommodations as a tool in their travel arsenal.

According to the GBTA's April study "Home-Sharing and Travel Policies  A Shifting Landscape," only 17% of travel policies specifically allow for home-share bookings. Of the travel managers surveyed, 87% reported being very concerned about the safety and security of home-sharing properties, while 55% said they felt that way about hotels. Other prominent concerns included the unpredictability of home-share accommodations, nonrefundable deposits and last-minute cancellations by the property.

Ultimately, however, those concerns haven't stood in the way of Onefinestay and Airbnb seeing notable growth among business travelers.

"Our last milestone we announced was that we reached 250,000 companies working with Airbnb, and we're adding about 18,000 companies a week," Holyoke said. "We'll have a bigger number to talk about in a few months." 

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