If you've rarely--or never--used Airbnb to book business trips for yourself or employees, you're not the only one.

Only 8 percent of U.S. business travelers used home-sharing services last year, according to Concur, a travel management firm. That's why the startup is pushing out bold, new features that it hopes will attract budget-conscious travelers who are looking for a longer, location-specific stay. There are, however, a few things to be aware of.

A recent New York Times piece reported some less-than-pleasant experiences for business travelers who used Airbnb, including one who stayed at a mouse-ridden apartment and had to use earplugs at night to block the street noise. Another shared a place in London with a perpetually towel-clad host who would not let her use the water or flush the toilet past 8:00 p.m., and would carry on unwanted conversations about alien encounters.

These events took place in 2014, and 2015, respectively, before the startup made its most recent upgrades in attempt to keep bookers from any similar experiences.

In November 2015, Airbnb announced its new "Business Travel Ready" badges for hosts whose listings met certain requirements. Free WiFi, 24-hour check-in, and a designated work station are among the necessary perks--but most importantly, the listings have to be for an entire home or apartment (thus precluding the UFO-lover), and the hosts must have high ratings.

Airbnb for Business allows employees and business travelers to access the "Business Travel Ready Listings," which will hopefully reduce the chances of unpleasant surprises. To sign up, users need only to register a work email, then choose the tab showing "for travelers," or "for travel managers," before typing in a city and a travel date. When the available listings come up, make sure to look for the green suitcase next to the listing description (there is no business filter yet)--otherwise you might as well start preparing for alien small talk.

Airbnb has also made it easier and more convenient for companies to monitor employee's itineraries and expenses during the trip: In July 2015 it launched a dashboard and other features to allow employees to access the information; and this June announced a new tool that allows company travel managers or others within a company to make bookings on behalf of employees.

As it continues to add new features, Airbnb is marketing the business service as a lower-cost, convenient, and increasingly reliable alternative. The company has already started to chip away at $300 billion business travel industry: Airbnb's head of global hospitality and strategy Chip Conley told the Times that more than 70,000 businesses have made bookings through the service since last year. Salesforce,Twilio and SoundCloud are listed on the site among its users, and Google travel manager Darragh Ormsby is quoted lauding the service.

Published on: Aug 16, 2016