As the price of airfares, hotel rooms, rental cars, and food and drink go up, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) predicts that business travel costs in the US will rise 2.9% this year and by 3.5% in 2015. And as usual, companies will be searching for new ways to tighten their travel budgets. One of the newest places they’ll be looking: Airbnb.
Privately owned apartments and houses are increasingly being seen as a cheaper, more spacious options for employees on the road. This summer, corporate travel and expense administrator Concur Technologies expanded its booking options to include listings from Airbnb, the most prominent of the private rental hubs, while Airbnb opened a new business travel booking portal of its own (it excludes wacky or potentially awkward accommodations like treehouses and shared apartments). Airbnb estimates that 10% of its bookings are for business travel, an area where the company plans to expand, according to Chip Conley, Airbnb’s head of global hospitality.
Airbnb began the push for business travelers through partnerships with tech companies like Evernote, Lyft and Salesforce, all of which have incorporated Airbnb lodging options into their corporate travel booking systems. Airbnb doesn’t plan to cater to every kind of business traveler, though. Speaking last week at the Skift Global Forum, a travel industry conference in New York, Conley said that while Airbnb listings hold specific appeal to entrepreneurs, for example (especially those who are cautious about costs or just interested in bringing colleagues together around a kitchen table while staying under one roof), for the more typical business traveler, Airbnb can’t beat the hotel industry in consistency.
“We will never compete with Marriott or Hilton for the two-day road warriors,” Conley says. ”We don’t want that business traveler. For the road warriors that go two days here, two days there, and want a rewards program, that’s just not us.”
Conley, who founded the boutique hotel operator Joie de Vivre Hospitality, says his role is part of an attempt to position Airbnb as a hospitality company, as opposed to an online travel booking agency. ”The hospitality side of the company was one that made me the most fascinated,” Conley says. “How do you teach thousands of hosts around the world the science of hospitality?”
It’s a tall task, and it will be crucial for ingratiating Airbnb hosts with not only their customer base, but their landlords and neighbors.