Research indicates that almost half of Australian business travellers use Uber, while close to a quarter use ‘sharing’ accommodation services like Airbnb. However, fewer than a third of travel policies actually cover these suppliers.
You don’t have to be a travel professional to be familiar with Airbnb and Uber. These ‘sharing economy’ options for leisure travel (where people rent out or 'share' things they're not using) are moving rapidly into the corporate travel market – and, whether you’re ready or not, your travellers are probably already using them.
Business travellers usually think they’re doing the right thing because ‘sharing economy’ services are generally cheaper than their mainstream counterparts. Airbnb rooms are often more convenient than hotels, offering more space or attractive locations. They also offer experiences which are more in line with traveller expectations, especially for millennial travellers.
So why do these non-traditional suppliers present something of a nightmare to corporate risk managers? We compiled the risks of using the sharing economy (aka all the things that make travel managers squirm) and ways to combat them, head on!
What are the risks?
A huge part of best practice travel management is an organisation's duty of care when it comes to ensuring the safety of their staff, no matter where they are.
For ride-sharing services like Uber, the risks are generally low. That’s especially true in jurisdictions where the services are legal. In fact, ‘ride sharing’ is sometimes less risky than taxis because drivers are vetted by the company and by passengers and the trip is tracked by GPS. Better still, transactions are done via the app, so travellers don’t need to carry cash.
For accommodation, the stakes are much higher. That’s why travel managers often inspect their preferred properties to get a sense of the safety and security measures in place. The very nature of services like Airbnb makes it impossible to assess each property, so it’s important to understand the risks and ensure that travellers are well informed.
Some of the aspects to consider include:
- Emergency response: Hotels have fire drills, on-site security staff and emergency protocols which ensure traveller safety. Do rooms in private dwellings or stand-alone apartments in the sharing economy have the same protection? Probably not. So travellers need to be even more alert and savvy about how to avoid danger.
- Emergency assistance: In most sharing economy properties, travellers are totally on their own. There are generally no staff around to help out in a crisis – or even to check you in if you arrive too early or too late.
- Emergency contact: As there are no staff around, how do you contact your staff when they’re at an Airbnb rental and the mobile network goes down? You can’t call reception and ask to be connected to the room. And how do you find out if they’ve checked in or out.
- Staff vetting: Hotels generally run background checks on their staff, but who knows who is cleaning your Airbnb room? Sure, ‘hosts’ are checked and monitored via guest feedback, but is that enough?
- Insurance: What happens if your traveller accidentally damages the TV in their Airbnb room? And worse still, what if they break their leg while tripping over that TV? Does your insurance cover that?
Addressing these risks
Okay, so we know that sharing economy options have unique risks and that travellers will not be deterred from using them, regardless. The sharing economy is not going away, so it’s essential to adapt your policy to address the risks.
- The first step, clearly, is to understand the offerings and to reach out to the suppliers. Both Airbnb and Uber have corporate travel 'versions' of their services which include enhanced data and expense system integration. Make sure you sign up for those and get your travellers to use the corporate accounts.
- Decide how you are going to integrate the sharing economy into your procedures and processes. And if you have a travel management company (TMC), make sure they are involved in the integration.
- Engage with travellers to make sure they understand the risks associated with the sharing economy and that they know what additional precautions they need to take.
- Be aware of the unique risks associated with particular countries and with individual travellers. For example, women may be at much higher risk in some regions – and the measures required to deal with that risk may outweigh any benefits of the sharing economy.
- Because most sharing economy options are “off the grid”, it is vital that your travellers’ itineraries are captured in your travel system and that contact details are up to date.
- Assistance from a travel security advisor or service is generally beneficial, but it’s even more important when you have lots of travellers using non-traditional services.
Whatever you do, don’t bury your head in the sand and ignore the sharing economy. It has already become mainstream and will, sooner than later, become the norm. Considering the possibility of these services may also assist in increasing the level of policy compliance, as your travellers will be encouraged to pursue those same avenues and still be within your guidelines. So there's no better time to make sure you get yourself and all your travel partners, especially your TMC, involved.
To talk to an expert about how best to introduce sharing economy options into your corporate travel policy, get in touch!