Ask the travel manager: 6

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  • Anonymous


    Each month, we put questions to the travel manager through the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE). This month’s topic…

    When is our travel programme going to allow the use of shared economy services like Uber and Airbnb?

    I think the answer to that question today is very different from what it would have been only 12 months ago.

    Back then, I would have been questioning whether we would ever let employees use these services, but that’s starting to change.

    It’s still too early to set a date, however, and I’m not sure that the answer would be the same for every shared service. They may be based on the same types of technology, but the offering to the individual – and to the corporate – are often very different, and come with different risks attached.

    First off, I’d say that travel managers know that the use of these services is increasing, and we’re trying to find a way to get our arms around it. The natural tendency is to insist people stick to the travel programme.

    It’s been set up so we have certain standards, can make the most of our spend to get discounts, and ensure our travelling employees are kept safe and we know where they are. That means using certain options for ground transport and for accommodation for instance.

    At the same time, though, you hear the Managing Director or CEO telling people he or she has just come in from the airport having used Uber. In those sorts of circumstances, if you try to fight people in the company by saying they can’t do the same they will fight back and you lose credibility internally. The response is no longer “No”, therefore, but “Give me time to sort this out”.

    It’s not easy setting up the arrangement, however. Take the suppliers themselves – although the likes of Uber and Airbnb want to attract business travellers and know an effective way to do it is to court travel managers and perhaps set up some deals with them, they have very different approaches.

    As far as Airbnb is concerned, we can now set up an account with them so that when you book you put in a corporate code and I get to capture the information on your stay – meaning I know where you are, and how much you paid.

    That takes care of the reporting side, but not two other aspects we’d normally hope for: discounting for volume, and duty of care.

    Assuming the discounting is off the table because it can be pretty inexpensive anyway, what about duty of care?

    Again, I’ve heard there are talks about Airbnb coming up with a checklist that if hosts want their property to be approved for corporate use then there are certain additional aspects it will ask the property owner to certify, but it’s not been determined exactly what those things are. I hope they will be to do with safety, security and access to keys if your flight is late and you need access.

    But even if the property gets certified, who does the certification? If it’s self-regulation, does it have any value? And if it’s externally certified then there’s an extra cost that then is passed on to the customer in terms of price. All these matters need to be decided.

    In addition, if I do set up that corporate account with Airbnb, then that effectively says I am telling our employees it is safe. That’s fine, but then that pushes the decision over safety to the employee, and in this day and age with duty of care, is that something that is fair to do or even legal?

    In some cases, you are renting someone’s couch. For business travel, is that what you want when travelling with your laptop and papers? Think about the safety and security.

    There’s also the point that booking with the likes of Airbnb will take volume away from suppliers and so our discounts from them might be disturbed.

    Right now, I don’t see that as a problem because Airbnb is not going to pick up more than 1 or 2 per cent. I don’t believe it is going to have the volume in a major city, so if I need to put a lot of people in Canary Wharf there isn’t going to be the supply there to support my needs.

    In some circumstances, Airbnb is a good overflow if inventory is tight at my preferred suppliers.

    In the case of Uber, lots of people are using it, and although I’ve heard of some corporate discounting, I don’t think it’s widespread.

    In those cases, I can see travel managers treating it as they do any other ground transportation option and leaving it to the employees to make the best choice – whether that’s shuttle bus, taxi, metro or Uber – provided it’s within budget and their manager approves.

    That said, there are still some managers who aren’t allowing it because of the safety and security element. The response there is how do you know the taxi is safe? It will be in London with a black cab, but what about other countries?

    So there’s a still a little bit of confusion, and that can equate to letting people do it, or not letting them do it, or just turning a blind eye. But if management are taking Uber then it’s pretty hard for them to stop their employees.

    So much for the future; for the present, if it isn’t approved and you present a receipt from Airbnb or Uber, then it will be treated like any other exception to the travel policy in the short term.

    If you want to stay somewhere other than in a preferred property, then whatever the company’s exception policy or procedures are would apply and ultimately it would be down to the individual manager. You are making the decision.

    So the travel manager would say “This is what we want to do as a corporation to make sure you are safe and secure and to leverage our spend, but it’s your local budget. You are taking on those risks for the company and it’s at the manager’s discretion.”

    Lastly, I’d say most travellers still want to stay in hotels, so just because you want to give Airbnb a try, doesn’t mean the vast majority of the team aren’t happy with hotels. They aren’t that younger generation who get a kick out of living in a loft apartment for a few days.

    Loyalty programmes also play their part. You can’t earn points with Airbnb. Not yet, anyway.

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Business Traveller April 2020 edition
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