Here to stay

1974

Airbnb and its peers have taken a chunk out of the hotel market – and now they’re taking steps to attract business guests, too. Jenny Southan reports

To all those naysayers who said renting other people’s homes would never catch on – you’ve been proven wrong.

In May, a study from Juniper Research showed that ‘sharing economy’ revenues were set to triple from $6.4 billion to $20.4 billion globally by 2020. For the first time, hotels and serviced apartment companies are concerned about competition from peer-to-peer rentals arranged through companies such as Airbnb and Onefinestay.

In the past 18 months or so, hundreds of companies have signed up to Airbnb’s Business Travel programme – these include Google, audio distribution giant SoundCloud and cloud communications company Twilio. Last summer, after a year of 700% growth, Airbnb launched a dedicated self-service portal – airbnb.com/business-travel. It offers a suite of tools to make it easier for corporates to make bookings, create itineraries and track expenses, as well as fulfil their duty-of-care responsibilities and in-house travel policies.

A few months later, Airbnb introduced ‘Business Travel Ready’ listings. This status can only be applied by hosts for entire homes – not just a room in a house shared with others – and essentials such as free wi-fi must be provided.

In June, Airbnb added a feature allowing PAs and managers to reserve stays on behalf of individual travellers. As a consequence, it has upped the number of companies booking business stays to more than 50,000, with new firms including Morgan Stanley, Facebook and JP Morgan.

“Our employees worldwide appreciate the choice and flexibility that Airbnb listings provide them when they’re on the road – whether for conferences, meetings or team offsites,” says Darragh Ormsby, global travel manager for Google.

“Not only are we able to get better insight into how and when our employees are using Airbnb, but travellers can choose a place that feels like home at a price that fits our travel budgets,” says Kelly Cammer, travel manager for Twilio.

Of the 40 million stays booked in 2015, 10% were for work, and business nights have so far tripled in 2016. Since launching in 2008, Airbnb now has a presence in 34,000 cities in 191 countries, and has seen more than 100 million guest arrivals.

In 2014, Concur joined forces with Airbnb to allow bookings through its TripLink expense management platform. This summer, American Express Global Business Travel announced that it had forged an agreement with Airbnb that will mean clients can easily track traveller bookings. Implementation began in the US and will follow in the UK, France and Germany by the year’s end. BCD Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel have quickly followed suit.

“Where this will have the most immediate impact will be on travellers who are seeking extended-stay opportunities,” says Scott J Brennan, CWT’s president of hotels. “But, as we see it, not every property that is available through Airbnb will be made available to our clients. Properties will need to go through a vetting process to ensure the safety and security of business travellers. We will also ensure clients have established HR policies around groups of employees staying together.”

 

GATHERING MOMENTUM

Hitwise, a division of consumer analytics company Connexity, has revealed that more than 1.35 million UK travellers visited peer-to-peer home rental sites in the first half of this year, but it is primarily those aged over 35 that are visiting sites such as airbnb.com, versus cheaper options such as couchsurfing.com.

“While the sharing economy is a relatively new industry for some, the appeal of value and personalisation captures all audiences,” says Nigel Wilson, managing director of Hitwise. “It’s clear that the benefits offered have become too apparent to appeal to just a single age group and it’s positive to see how the internet is enabling new behaviours.”

Tapping into the luxury end of the sharing economy, Onefinestay was founded in 2010 and now has a portfolio of more than 2,600 rental homes in London, New York, Paris, Rome and LA. It’s essentially Airbnb for the rich, with hotel-style support in the form of 24/7 concierges, top-quality linens, towels and bathing products, and free iPhones on loan. In April, the London-based company was bought by France’s Accorhotels in a $146 million deal. (That’s one way to combat the competition.) It will invest a further $62 million on expansion into 40 new cities over the next five years.

There’s also Oasis Collection, which was founded seven years ago and offers “handpicked homes” across 18 cities such as Buenos Aires, Madrid and Mexico City. Oasis goes a step further than Onefinestay by providing fully stocked fridges, gym membership and access to local private members’ clubs. By the end of next year, it plans to have a presence in 50 cities. In February, Accorhotels also bought a 30% stake in Oasis.

As Airbnb grows, dozens of satellite companies are popping up to help hosts provide a more ‘five-star’ experience for guests. In London, Lavanda will photograph your property, make up beds, clean the apartment, screen guests, manage queries, conduct check-ins, restock fridges and carry out maintenance. Airsorted, Guesty, Pillow, Hostmaker and HelloGuest offer a similar proposition. It means that on your next trip abroad, renting out your own place could be a viable option, too.

The fact remains that for many business travellers the uncertainty of what you are going to get when you stay in someone else’s home is going to be a deterrent, and trawling through hundreds of reviews can be more time-consuming than booking with a familiar Hilton. People travelling for work need to minimise stress and operate at optimum efficiency – top-end hotels pretty much guarantee this with wake-up calls, room service, on-site gyms, butlers and meeting space, but those staying in lower-end hotels may find Airbnb offers a compelling alternative.

That said, if your travel manager will do all the legwork in booking an apartment for you, then you’re probably going to be on to a winner. What’s more, there are some stunning places out there that will trump even the most swanky of hotel suites.