That can only be a good thing
TOP ten Airbnb horror stories!” is a staple headline on certain list-based websites. Each litany of woe will usually include at least one tale of sexual debauchery, one of drug abuse and one of a soiled apartment. Sometimes, they manage to combine all three. “Home destroyed by Airbnb guest in ‘drug-crazed’ orgy,” is a fairly typical cross-head.
Nightmarish experiences at these short-stay rented apartments are extremely rare, of course. Indeed, the prevalence of such lists says more about people’s suspicion of a fresh business idea than it does of any real new danger. (Drug-fuelled orgies in old-fashioned hotel rooms seldom end up on BuzzFeed.) The overwhelming majority of Airbnb stays are placid and pleasant. But a deep-seated conservatism has stopped big firms from embracing shared-economy accommodation as an option when booking trips for their employees. Corporations do not like unknowns; they prefer a set of standards they can trust. That is why they nudge travellers towards cookie-cutter concrete towers in the central business district.
They are not always wrong to do so. Your columnist’s colleague tells of a business jaunt to Tel Aviv, in which she was booked into a bog-standard brand-name hotel. A woman on the same trip, however, had opted for an Airbnb. At 11.30 that night the colleague received an e-mail. The woman from the party explained that the apartment was nothing like she had expected—it was, indeed, a little scary—and asked whether there might be room on my colleague’s hotel-room floor for her to bed down on. No matter how rarely that happens, it is understandable that, with the well-being of their staff at the front of their mind, firms would prefer to go with more humdrum, tried-and-trusted options.
All of that is changing, though. Use of Airbnb by business travellers grew by 249% around the world in 2015 according to Certify, a travel-expense firm. Airbnb says business travellers now account for 10% of its bookings. And that number is likely to rise even faster in the coming years. On July 12th, the firm announced partnerships with three of the world’s biggest corporate-travel bookers (American Express Global Business Travel, BCD and Carlson Wagonlit Travel). For many employees, that means an Airbnb property is now likely to be on the list of options when it comes to booking a trip.
That, to Gulliver’s mind, is a good thing. As more people use Airbnb for their private travel, the more they will demand it when they are on business. And there is much to be said for getting to know a city better by staying in a real home, in a neighbourhood in which locals might actually live, rather than at some faceless establishment. Too often, for the relentless road warrior, one hotel room can blur seamlessly into the next, with cities’ charms ignored.
According to Lex Bayer of Airbnb, the average business traveller books into an Airbnb for a six-night stay, compared with less than four nights at a hotel. There are a couple of reasons why this may be. First, reckons Mr Bayer, business travellers on longer trips are more likely to want home comforts—coming home and cooking a meal, say, or doing some laundry. Second, most of them also stay on for at least part of the weekend, which suggests they are looking to tag a mini city-break onto their corporate schedule. The other trend, says Mr Bayer, is for a party of business people to stay in the same property. That allows for more team bonding and closer collaboration on the project they are working on.
Why the change of heart? It seems as if the business-travel bookers’ concerns have been laid to rest on two scores. First, Airbnb now offers a selection of “business travel ready” properties, which must fulfil some basic requirements such as decent wi-fi, desks on which laptops can be used, and 24/7 access to the property. This should help cut out some of those nasty surprises. And second, businesses have been convinced that there will be someone accountable should things go wrong. Although the liability for problems that arise at Airbnb properties lie with the individual owners, not the San Francisco firm, those owners are also covered by mandatory third-party insurance worth $1m.
Many businesspeople complain that travel has become a bit of a treadmill. For some, renting a private home is a chance to liven things up a bit. But a small amount of restraint is advised: if your stay involves sex, drugs and a soiled apartment, you may end up on a BuzzFeed list being shared throughout the office.