It may now officially be considered a trend: Corporate travelers are beginning to embrace mobile, on-demand services, like Uber and Lyft. But the use of these innovations goes beyond ground transport. Airbnb is looking to dig into the business travel sector, and while it has a long way to go to beat out traditional hotels, its presence in the space isn't going unnoticed.
Last year, T&E firm Certify found a few patterns popping up in how business travelers use Airbnb. On average, travelers using Airbnb stay at their booking twice as long as they do at traditional hotels, which is also leading to corporate travelers expensing twice as much as they do for Airbnb bookings with hotels, too.
Certify also concluded that corporate travelers rate their Airbnb experience as a more positive one than with hotels.
Airbnb launched its corporate travel services last year, and according to the company's business travel lead, Marc McCabe, the positive response to the tool "confirms our findings that business travelers increasingly want to redefine the business trip."
This year, Airbnb continues its journey into the corporate travel space and just signed some major partners to (hopefully) bring those efforts to the next level.
Earlier this month, American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) became the first travel management company to partner with Airbnb, according to Amex GBT Vice President of Global Supplier Relations Wesley Bergstrom. Their integration enables the sharing of data between Amex GBT and the Airbnb for Business platforms to streamline expense reporting, while Amex GBT will refer corporate travelers to the Airbnb site.
"Business trips come in all shapes and sizes, and it's important that accommodation options match," Bergstrom told PYMNTS of the growing interest among corporate travelers in Airbnb.
According to Bergstrom, it's true that Airbnb may not be the right tool for every company and its employees.
"This content is not a one-size-fits-all approach," he stated. But, he said, working with Airbnb was a direct response to the demands made by Amex GBT's own clients — some of which are already using Airbnb anyway.
But the use of on-demand tools like Airbnb aren't always an obvious choice for businesses.
For one, the company is in the midst of several battles to remain legal in various cities throughout the world. Earlier this month, several lawmakers called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Airbnb over its impact on the housing market.
To that end, Bergstrom simply said that it is up to the companies themselves whether they want to use Airbnb and did not comment on whether potential incoming regulations and restrictions on the service would be of concern to a travel management company like Amex GBT.
What he did say, however, is that the traction Airbnb is gaining among corporate travelers is, in part, thanks to the ability for travel management companies to provide a cost-effective, safe and corporate policy-friendly option for employees.
"Companies who partner with a TMC [travel management company] like GBT can use technologies and resources to locate, communicate with and assist travelers in times of need," the executive explained. "They can also ensure employees book their flights, accommodations and ground transportation within their company's established policy to optimize spend and ensure competitive rates."
Corporate spend management in the employee travel space will be key, considering how much money floats around. The Global Business Travel Association released its latest report on corporate travel spend earlier this month. According to the data, corporate spending on travel topped $1.2 trillion last year, a 5 percent year-on-year growth.
That spend increase is expected to continue this year, and analysts predict corporate travel spend will hit $1.6 trillion by the end of the decade.
Amex GBT announced its partnership with Airbnb along with several other travel management companies, including Carlson Wagonlit Travel and BCD Travel, that could signal rising acceptance of the corporate travel services space of the sharing economy as both spaces work for their share of this lucrative industry.
But Airbnb's success with business travelers isn't certain. Soon after these TMCs announced their collaborations with Airbnb, the Global Business Travel Association Convention 2016 kicked off. According to Skift reports last week, corporate travel experts agree that the industry hasn't fully embraced the sharing economy and mobile tools.
Rob Greyber, president of corporate travel firm Egencia, told the outlet that efforts to heighten technology, on-demand services and sharing-economy innovations in the corporate travel space are "fractured."
"People are going to look at the sharing economy not as the sharing economy but look at it in its component pieces and how that works for you as a business traveler," he told Skift. "Some people are going to lean into it a lot. Other people are going to lean into a different piece of it. We're looking at that on a pretty feature-by-feature, function-by-function kind of way."
Another sentiment broadly expressed by attendees of the event, Skift said, was that these travel management companies are not technology companies, so in their efforts to increase their tech-enabled services — from on-demand tools, like supporting Airbnb or Uber, to providing mobile booking or expense management services for corporate clients — industry consolidation could be on the way.
Amex GBT's Bergstrom agreed that the impact of such services on the corporate travel space has yet to fully play out.
"Within travel, there is certainly a pattern that occurs when technologies are widely adopted among leisure travelers," he said. "Oftentimes, these technologies naturally infiltrate business travel as well, causing companies to reevaluate the services they're using. Airbnb and other sharing-economy options have gained traction overall, but it will be interesting to see how much relevance they have in corporate travel."