“Nobody legislates technology into being. They don’t legislate the birth of the
internet or cell phones or anything. They’re called forth into the market, and the
people who call them forth often have absolutely no idea how these things
they’ve thought of will most change society. It’s impossible to tell until people
have the things, and they’re using them.”
Duty of Care: a moral and/or legal obligation to ensure the safety or well-being of others
This modern life
A regular conversation sales managers and account managers often have with their clients, be they new ones or old, is what their thoughts are on the duty of care for travellers that want to use a sharing economy service. It’s a valid and important concern, so let’s talk about the relationship between duty of care and the sharing economy.
First of all, it’s important to make it clear what the sharing economy is and what it is not.
We live in a world inundated with jargon and buzzwords, and it can cause more confusion and frustration than is needed. We’ve already mentioned one of those buzzword terms – the “sharing economy”. We’re going to give you another one now: “platform economy”.
To have a proper, nuanced, and intelligent understanding of the question at hand, it’s important to be able to distinguish between these two concepts.
When you hear the words “sharing economy” think small, think local, community-driven. The term, and the idea, refer to legitimate – albeit small – means of organising humans together towards a common good.
An example? Yerdle.
Yerdle is an app used to exchange used goods, whose ethos and driving principle is based around the pay it forward principle. The idea behind it is as simple as it sounds – help one another out, not for personal gain or profit, but because it’s good for the local community.
Count the seconds, watch the hours
Then there’s ‘Platform Economy’. When you think of BIG, FAMOUS, CONTROVERSIAL! companies, such as Uber or Airbnb, think Platform Economy (a common alternative term you may encounter is Platform Capitalism – it’s the same thing).
The Platform Economy is a vastly different beast from the Sharing Economy.
Platform Economy services are little more than digitally-enabled extensions of the existing market economy. (Some technology critics have argued that the nature of the software, social design, and business approach in fact makes these services the opposite of sharing.)
No maps for these territories
Before we move onto the topic of duty of care, we need to first pivot to the relationship between platform economies and the “traditional services” – such as hotels, travel management companies, and taxis.
Are you ready?
Airbnb is not – we repeat, NOT – a threat to established hotel services and offerings. We know this because the analysed figures – projected and/or estimated profit loss, increases/decreases in the traveller cohort – all suggest this new “economy”, rather than threatening hotels, simply exists alongside it, and serves a different type of traveller than the kind that might stay at a hotel.
In effect, it exists to complement, not threaten or destroy, existing hotels.
Uber, likewise, seeks to complement existing taxi services, rather than displace or destroy them. Their offerings, fee systems, and technology infrastructures are different from those of conventional, established taxi services (such as London’s famous Knowledge taxi service), but they can coexist alongside established services.
The locus of control
Now, we arrive, as promised, on the topic of duty of care.
The travellers that QBT manages – government and corporates – tend to be guided by a travel policy that sets out rules around travel, as any reader familiar with the travel industry will know.
Travel policies exist for a reason – their purpose is to ensure travellers, be they clients or employees, feel safe, taken care of, have had their travel process made as easy and simple as possible, are armed with up to date information, know what to expect as well as who to contact and what to do in an emergency situation.
But it’s not a one-directional relationship – the traveller has to play their part as well, by understanding the services they are being provided by their travel management company, why it’s important to follow the travel rules (“staying in policy” – sorry, one more buzzword!), and not veer off-policy and decide to suddenly book with an unplanned bed and breakfast or Airbnb.
It’s also legally dangerous for the traveller’s organisation – and by proxy their travel management company; it leaves both of them legally liable, unable to ensure the safety of the traveller. After all, how can an organisation ensure its duty of care obligations if a traveller veers off-course, upending their visibility and location?
It can also wreak financial havoc, particularly when certain or expected rates are not being paid for accommodations or travel services.
The weight of the world
There is also the question of the social good to consider.
What do large organisations and their travellers owe to the communities – however big or small – to which they travel?
Consider: protests and legal actions have been sparked in recent years in cities such as Dubrovnik, Barcelona, and San Francisco, due to the problems the service has caused for locals in those cities.
Consider: Uber was engaged in (and lost) a class action lawsuit in New York City for docking excessive fees from their fares, and was forced to pay $3 million in settlement fees.
How and why does that matter with regards to duty of care?
When a travel management company prepares a travel policy, part of their job will be to research the laws and customs of the location the traveller is visiting, to ensure the traveller completely understands the customs and norms and thus doesn’t accidentally violate a custom or break a law.
Those cities and communities that are protesting the rising presence of Airbnb and Uber? It’s because those platform economies failed to consider the cultural norms and customs of the places where they established a foothold, however small.
So failing to consider the expectations of others, even as a traveller? That’s a bad idea. And keep in mind also, that a traveller is (whether they like it or not!) an ambassador not only for their own city and/or country, but also their employer.
At the crossroads that wait
The majority of business/corporate travellers want a travel process that maximises productivity. They want to get from Point A to Point B with a minimal amount of fuss and hassle.
Perhaps for this reason, most such travellers don’t bother with platform economy services: they expect a certain – and consistent – level of quality that no platform economy service can offer on a regular basis.
What’s an example of that, you ask? Here are but a few!
- Stable WiFi
- 24/7 Check-in and staff services
- Guaranteed privacy and security
- Accountable transportation
- Easy follow-ups
- A level of comfort across all locations
Where do platform economies have an advantage, however?
Because they do have one.
Speed. They’ve got the advantage of speed – namely the speed at which they can update the service offerings of their software. For example – producing software updates which allow employers or travel management companies to receive live payment and invoice updates, rather than dealing with receipt collating and accounting matters at the end of a traveller’s journey.
Of course, such competitive advantages do not remain so for very long, as the more “traditional” service providers find themselves playing catch-up to gain a competitive advantage or provide a unique service offering of their own.
An application in open spaces
Travellers use apps. That is fairly standard. Travel management companies regularly, in their travel policies, provide recommendations on which booking app(s) to use, including (in Australia) Trip View and Trip Case.
So here then, is a question to consider: how do you feel about recommending other apps – particularly if they help or even ensure a more consistent duty of care?
Remember when we mentioned earlier how duty of care is a reciprocal relationship? If you want to build on that reciprocity, and your traveller is tech savvy, why not try the following:
- PackPoint Travel
- Chargers & Charging sites
- Equip Travellers with the right technology.
- Give them multiple phone chargers.
- They’re small, compact, sleek, and light-weight.
If your traveller happens to enjoy visiting particular venues, like certain pubs, for example – find out if a mobile charging station is available. It can’t hurt to check, as it’s increasingly becoming more prevalent in pubs, hotels, even restaurants.
Have a better time than most can dream
Duty of care is in a strange new world of rapidly changing technology whose legal, social, and political repercussions are difficult – if not impossible – to anticipate.
Scholars and lawmakers alike are constantly playing catch-up with technological advances that call into question new or unexplored legal horizons.
And that’s what we’re trying to do here at QBT. Our Sales Managers and Account Managers strive to stay appraised of all the latest changes in the field to ensure their clients are provided with the best and most contemporary service options available.
Like it or not, platform capitalism and sharing economies are here to stay. We all need to accept that and make an effort to understand in a nuanced and reasoned manner these new and emergent technologies and regularly ask ourselves how they will affect our duty of care policies, to ensure optimal support and legal and moral care for our clients and customers.
* originally published as 'The Nervous System, or Share This!'.
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