How to expand your travel policy to include Airbnb for WorkTravel managers weigh in on what to consider when you are ready to incorporate Airbnb for Work into your travel policy or guidelines
There is a very strong likelihood that some of your employees are using sharing economy providers when they travel for work, even if those providers are not included in your company’s official travel policy or guidelines.
“The sharing economy trends that have come to define personal travel are now significantly influencing business travel as well,” said Susan Chapman-Hughes, Senior Vice President of American Express Global Commercial Payments.
Prompted by employee use of sharing economy travel providers for business travel, two key trends are driving their incorporation into official travel policy. The first is a growing recognition of the cost savings benefits and increased traveler satisfaction that result from using providers like Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb.
“Corporate resistance to the shared economy has softened a bit from a year or so ago because companies are seeing the difference in cost and sophistication and realize that most of the major issues they thought would be obstacles aren’t anymore,” said Bill La Peer, President and Chief Operating Officer at travel consultant firm Zulu Solutions.
A second trend driving adoption is that sharing economy travel providers are introducing or refining tools and platforms that simplify how travel managers track and manage travelers, bookings, and expense reports.
Corporate resistance to the shared economy has softened a bit from a year or so ago because companies are seeing the difference in cost and sophistication.
“Companies like Lyft and Airbnb are addressing the corporate market with tools and features that meet corporate requirements,” said Neil Hammond, a partner at GoldSpring Consulting LLC, a travel management consulting firm. “This is helping adoption in the corporate travel world.”
It’s not difficult to add Airbnb to your travel policy. However, as sharing economy travel providers are unlike traditional travel suppliers in several ways, here are a few recommendations and insights from colleagues on what to consider when you have decided to officially incorporate Airbnb for Work into your travel policy or guidelines.
Get feedback from all stakeholders
The first step is to gather feedback from all key stakeholders to ensure that the guidelines you put in your travel policy for employee use of Airbnb are consistent with overall company policy.
For example, human resources and legal will want to provide input on guidelines for team travel where multiple employees are sharing an Airbnb, as well as other use scenarios. Safety and security will want to understand how Airbnb enables traveler tracking on the Airbnb for Work company dashboard and all the measures that are in place to protect travelers and hosts. Your CFO, finance department, and/or your corporate credit card administrator will need to understand how the company dashboard’s expense management tools will work with existing systems, and they’ll want to provide input on expense and reimbursement procedures for Airbnb bookings.
Identify your goals
Feedback from stakeholders will enable you to address their concerns and also identify specific goals for incorporating Airbnb into your official travel policy. Knowing your goals will be fundamental to writing specific guidelines for employees.
For example, is your primary goal for incorporating Airbnb cost savings on your accommodation spend? Or, is your primary focus on increasing employee satisfaction by giving your travelers more accommodation choices in local neighborhoods? It could be a little of both. Or, perhaps you are looking for an alternative option to serviced corporate apartments or hotels for employees that require extended stays, or for relocations.
Once you establish your goals, you'll reference them to create a custom Airbnb for Work program for your company.
Incorporate your company culture
Company culture will play a big role in setting guidelines around adopting Airbnb for Work into a travel program. Some companies have specific guidelines in place outlining when employees should book a hotel and when they can book an Airbnb, as well as allowances for Airbnb property type, price, and whether the host can be present. Others have more flexible parameters.
At Culture Amp, a SaaS employee feedback and analytics firm, employees are free to choose a hotel or an Airbnb listing as long as it remains within certain parameters.
“For accommodation, you have the freedom to book hotels or Airbnb as you wish” within upper limits set for price, said Damien Williams, Head of Finance for Culture Amp. “Overall, we expect people to book the equivalent of a four-star property,” he said. “What we are saying is we are not five-star, we are not a Fortune 500—we are a tech startup and that doesn’t resonate with our culture. But we’re not a three-star either. We’re not scrappy, we’re not bootstrapped anymore. So, four-star as a rule of thumb feels right for us.”
For accommodation, you have the freedom to book hotels or Airbnb as you wish, with two key criteria that are sort of upper limits of expenditure.
Brandon Gries, Travel and Event Coordinator for Hudl, a software company that provides online tools for coaches and athletes, encourages use of Airbnb for business travel for cost savings, but does not mandate it in travel policy. “I’m not going to require anybody to do it because some people are unfamiliar with [Airbnb] as it’s non-traditional,” Gries said. “But I am going to encourage it and put it in the policy as something we feel that is safe for them but also going to help us out on the company side because it will add some cost savings on our end.”
Determine guidelines for different travel scenarios
Airbnb accommodations can be used for a wider range of travel scenarios than most traditional hotels. Common Airbnb uses for business travel include short-term stays for individuals, team travel, extended stays and relocations, and offsite meetings. “Bleisure” travel—trips that mix business trips with leisure travel—is growing in popularity, particularly among millennials.
You might want to consider writing guidelines in your travel policy around each of these scenarios that are consistent with your identified goals for using Airbnb, your company culture, and your relationships with and commitments to your other preferred accommodation providers.
Specify if you allow stays in properties where the host is present
Official adoption of Airbnb for Work in your travel policy gives you access to a dashboard filter so you can easily search for work-ready listings. These are private homes and apartments where the host is not present, that offer 24/7 entry access, and provide travelers with the amenities they need to be their most productive.
Do you want to require your travelers to use these properties or other private Airbnb accommodations, or will they be allowed to stay in Airbnb properties where the host is present?
At Box, a cloud management and file sharing service for businesses, travel policy around use of Airbnb for business trips has few limitations and allows travelers to stay in hosted as well as private properties. “We’ve left it pretty open and trust our employees to make the right decisions,” said Rachel Ersted, Senior Treasury Analyst at Box. “We assume that given how competitive the rates are on Airbnb they are going to be choosing a listing that can accommodate all of their needs and make them very comfortable.”
More specific guidelines regarding the type of Airbnb accommodation allowed and the price ceiling are written into travel policy at IES Communications, a cabling and communications company. “It has to be a full home, it can’t be a shared space” where the host is present, said Gayla Steeneck, Travel Supervisor for IES, which primarily uses Airbnb for employees on extended-stay installation projects.
Encourage or require travelers to use their company email address for bookings
Some of your employees—and many of your millennial employees—are likely familiar with Airbnb and have stayed in Airbnb properties for their personal travel. Most travel managers require or strongly encourage their employees to register and then use their company email address to book business travel with Airbnb through the company dashboard. The registration process is simple and takes just a few minutes.
We want them to use the Medallia link to Airbnb, which gives us visibility to see who is booking what, when, and where, via the dashboard.
Adding Airbnb for Work to your travel program gives you access to a company dashboard that has an array of travel management tools. Making sure your business travelers book Airbnb using their company email address ensures that you can fully utilize the dashboard’s tools. These will enable you to track employees staying in Airbnb listings on business trips, capture booking information for expense reporting, and view average company-wide rates using Airbnb to document cost savings.
“We want them to use the Medallia link to Airbnb, which gives us visibility to see who is booking what, when, and where, via the dashboard,” said Alla Neys, Director of Global Travel Programs for Medallia, a company that offers a cloud-based platform to capture customer feedback. “We also want to ensure they select suitable locations—that’s actually spelled out in the requirements—and make sure there is a good balance between using Airbnb and our preferred hotel program. So, if the cost is equal to or lower than a preferred hotel it’s okay to book Airbnb. So far, it’s worked great.”
Box also encourages employees to book through their company’s Airbnb account to enable traveler tracking on the Airbnb for Work dashboard, “because part of duty of care is knowing where people are in the case of an emergency,” Ersted said. “It also makes it easier for their receipts to feed through Concur so we know that number is going to be accurate.”
Let people know that Airbnb is part of your travel policy
Once you have expanded your travel policy to include Airbnb for Work, the final step is to let employees know Airbnb is officially part of your travel program, and make sure they understand the company’s guidelines for use. “So much of the success of introducing something new to a travel management program is in the communications,” said Jeanne Liu, Vice President of Research at the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).
While this might sound obvious, according to Chapman-Hughes of American Express Global Commercial Payments, not all travel managers are communicating effectively. “Nearly one in five travelers are still unsure whether their employer’s policies allow for sharing economy services, making it especially important for companies to communicate clear details about the services and amenities that their policy covers,” she said.
Communication strategies are as unique as each company or organization, but common methods include emails, social media posts, digital and/or print flyers, newsletter announcements, and postings in the travel section of a company’s intranet. Most travel managers use a combination of communication methods that are introduced over a specific timeline so there are several information touchpoints. Some have found it effective to announce inclusion of Airbnb for Work in company travel policy during an event like a lunch-and-learn or travel fair, or to cover it during new hire orientations.
Airbnb can help you actualize significant cost savings for your company and increased traveler satisfaction levels for your employees—but only if you get stakeholder buy-in and support, spell out clear guidelines around bookings, and effectively communicate that you’ve expanded your policy to include Airbnb for Work.