• The curious question of Airbnb for business travel

    A recent set of Airbnb listings for New York City. (airbnb.com)

    A recent set of Airbnb listings for New York City. (airbnb.com)

    Matt Pekarek
    Currently, travel’s hottest brand isn’t a new airline or hotel chain. Rather, it’s a marketplace that allows private homeowners and renters to book rooms directly to travelers. It’s Airbnb, and along with car sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, it’s a prime example of the power of the sharing economy. While the prospect of inexpensive rooms for rent is definitely appealing, there are several things that business travelers should consider.

    Safety and security

    Pros: Airbnb’s Verified ID program adds a visible layer of identity assurance to both hosts and travelers. That, along with verified photos of spaces, as well as a by-stay-only review system, provides  Airbnb guests with a layer of security. As far the spaces themselves are concerned, all hosts will be required to have a working smoke and CO detector by the end of 2014. Airbnb also goes to great lengths to advise hosts on home safety.

    Cons: While Airbnb has verification tools in place, they’re not required for all listings. As you evaluate places to stay, be sure to check that the host is verified, along with the room photography (look for “verified photo” next to listing pics). Also, keep in mind that Airbnb spaces aren’t subject to the same regulation and inspection as traditional hotels. Airbnb self-polices through their corporate office and reviewers, but the differences in minimum requirements between a hotel and a private space are something to consider.

    Consistency and service

    Pros: Beyond price, Airbnb’s biggest appeal is the unique  nature of available rooms. A quick search will turn up spaces from utilitarian to luxurious, antique to modern. Each space is to the taste of the host, as well as the services and amenities provided – some even offering breakfast á la a traditional bed and breakfast.

    Cons: What’s granted in distinctiveness is given up in consistency. Quality can vary wildly from room to room, as well as the amenities offered. Unless listed, don’t expect housekeeping, linen service or toiletries—an advantage that traditional hotels have over the majority of Airbnb listings. Be sure to check each listing’s amenities for what to expect.

    Your company’s travel policy

    Pros: Many companies are currently evaluating Airbnb as a consideration for their program, while a few have even adopted them as a supplier within the program. Airbnb provides an excellent “Plan B” in the case that traditional hotels are at capacity or prohibitively expensive due to a convention or event.

    Cons: Many companies are still waiting on the sidelines for Airbnb to firmly establish themselves before making any major policy decisions. For business travelers, the best thing to do is to follow your company’s travel policy and book with preferred suppliers. If traditional hotel rooms are either too scarce or too pricey on an upcoming trip, work directly with your travel manager to evaluate additional options, and to see if an Airbnb stay can be negotiated within policy. If it can, be sure to brief your travel manager with as much information as possible about where you will be staying.

    The sharing economy is undergoing a rapid state of evolution as businesses, governments and consumers work out the kinks in (seemingly) real time. At this point in Airbnb’s trajectory, our advice is work with your travel arranger/manager to stay within policy. If an Airbnb stay is possible, be informed about where you’re staying and stay with a host that is verified and whose room has the very basics in safety and amenities.

    Booked an Airbnb space for business travel? Let us know your experience in the comments!

2 Responsesso far.

  1. Dan says:

    I tried using Airbnb for a long business stay in Washington commencing at the start of this week. The apartment I booked was excellent value, in a good location and offered those homely comforts like a sink and hob to avoid eating out each night.

    Unfortunately, on the day I was due to ‘check in’ , I received an email from the host, via Airbnb, just as I was boarding the flight to say that the host had updated the offer price and would I accept.

    The price had doubled, but the timing meant I potentially had no other option and the guest cancellation policy left me unsure to my refund position should I reject the offer.. I felt thoroughly scammed.

    Fortunately, a little negative advertising of the situation on Twitter meant Airbnb customer services jumped in quickly and cancelled the booking on my behalf whilst I was in the air. They apologised and kindly offered available alternatives.

    I ended up finding a hotel room whilst in the immigration queue via the Hotels.com app.

    In short, I would make sure that, for business or personal travel, you check the Airbnb terms and conditions regarding price changes and cancellation policies suit your business. I was booking for myself as the traveller – I wouldn’t want to be in that situation having booked and paid up front for a member of staff. In most cases you are dealing directly with the home owner and their own take on good business.

  2. Matt Pekarek Matt Pekarek says:

    Thank you for the comment, Dan!

    This is the perfect example of the kind of negative experience that’s definitely possible under Airbnb’s system (at least, as it stands now). That said, it’s heartening to see that Airbnb jumped into action to extricate you out of a bad situation.

    It looks like the host tried to do his own version of “surge” pricing in the style of Lyft and Uber. BUT, while Lyft and Uber make you fully aware that you’ll be charged accordingly before you even book, this host tried to do it in a situation where you already booked the room and there was (to him/her) no other option but to take his inflated rate.

    Hopefully, this is the last time this particular host tries to do this with a potential guest – social media and Airbnb’s recommendation system will almost assure that! If not, and this becomes more endemic, look for a policy change to come sooner rather than later.

    You’re absolutely correct – as a traveler or booker, check terms and conditions before making everything final. As a booker, make sure that you communicate any potential glitches that might occur, as rare as they can be. And, no matter what, always have a “Plan B” ready to go.

    Thanks again, Dan!