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3 Reasons Why Airbnb Hasn't Won Over Business Travellers

The home rental startup has started courting business travellers. Here's why it may be a tough road ahead.
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Despite a host of well publicized snafus (such as incidents involving squatters and sex parties), a crescendo of buzz appears to indicate that peer-to-peer home rental startup Airbnb is on its way to conquering the vacation travel market. Now the company is looking to get a larger slice of the $266 billion directly spent on business travel last year.

Ten percent of the stays booked on the site are already business-related, according to Chip Conley, Airbnb's head of global hospitality, but the company is hoping to boost that percentage with a newly announced partnership with Concur. As of this fall, "business travelers who use Concur's TripLink service will be able to book Airbnb listings directly and have their expense reports automatically populated in Concur," the startup's blog explained, in a post that also highlighted new tools designed to make the site easier to use for business travellers and the more than 30 companies that are already working with Airbnb to book business travel.

So, should smaller businesses rush to take advantage of a newly business-friendly Airbnb? Those that are already converted to the merits of staying in others' homes for the intrinsic value of the experience will, of course, need no further convincing, but fans of a more traditional business travel experience may be more difficult to convert, according to several experts.

It's Not That Much Cheaper

One of the obvious appeals of Airbnb for cash-strapped entrepreneurs is the potential cost savings, but it seems that, depending on your requirements and destination, utilizing the site for your next business trip might not save you as much as you had hoped.

"A U.S., city-by-city study by the web data company Priceonomics found that while renting a private room on Airbnb is about half as expensive on average than staying in a hotel, renting an entire apartment is less of a bargain, with a cost savings of just over 20 percent," writes Roya Wolverson on Quartz. "And Airbnb is not always cheaper in smaller cities, where apartment inventory and living costs are lower."

The bottom line: If you're happy just crashing in a stranger's spare room, sure, you're likely to save a buck, but if you need a whole place to yourself for meetings, privacy, or other reasons, it's not guaranteed that Airbnb is much of a deal.

Surprise, No Wi-Fi!

Devotees of Airbnb love the company precisely for the quirky nature of the accommodation offered, but will business travels put as much stock in unusual surroundings if it means less reliable service and fewer amenities?

"Business travelers crave consistency more than anything else. They don't want surprises. They love Best Westerns or Courtyards because they know what they are going to get every time. The product may lack local color and experiential pleasures, but there's little chance of disappointment. I'm not sure you can get that kind of consistency when staying at someone's house," Chris McGinnis, the editor of TravelSkills, told Forbes's Grant Martin, summing up this potential obstacle for entrepreneurs on the go.

"I'm a frequent Airbnb user for leisure travel and can attest that a bad or nonexistent internet connection is a regular feature of the Airbnb travel experience, even when the service is promised by the renter," warns Quartz's Wolverson. The danger is skimping on travel costs could cost you more than you save in lost productivity.

Loyalty Doesn't Pay

Finally, as of now, Airbnb isn't offering any sort of loyalty program. That's a big negative if you're the type of road warrior who is used to getting a free flight or hotel stay somewhere glamorous to compensate you for all those long hours logged in airplanes for work. But as Martin points out, this is something that could change.

"Current regular business travelers are attracted to elite status and the points that come with repeated hotel stays. They can use these points for later vacations, transfer them to airline miles, or even share them with friends--all incentives towards coming back to the same brand and staying a few extra nights. Vacation rentals, conversely, stick to the outdated notion that travelers will never return--so no incentive is needed. Instead, they should look towards their massive networks of properties to drive further traffic, giving even a miniscule bonus for coming back to the site," he writes.

That being said, if a homey pad or the character of the location matters more to you than consistency and rock-solid Internet, Airbnb can't be beat. Martin, for instance, may enumerate a number of drawbacks for business travellers but he also shares a positive experience using the site to book a place to stay during the insanely busy SXSW festival in Austin.

Have you used Airbnb for business travel? Share you experience in the comments.

Last updated: Jul 30, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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