Whether it’s from first-hand experience or cultural osmosis, we all have an idea what to expect from a hotel. The room will have certain features: a door that locks, a bed, a bathroom with a functional toilet, sink, and shower, a little desk, maybe a television. The hotel will have turndown service, wifi, possibly breakfast. Reliably having access to these amenities for a reasonable price is the backbone of the hospitality industry.
Needless to say, home-sharing services have turned much of the travel world upside-down. In an industry which is becoming more and more standardized, these home-sharing platforms are a sudden injection of unbelievable variety, which is quite the double-edged sword. A good home listing has the potential to be more affordable, comfortable, or authentic than a hotel. A bad one has the potential to be deceitful, dangerous, and complicated. The question: are Airbnb and similar services viable options for the business traveller?
The aspects of home-sharing that appeal to the pleasure traveller should be red flags for the corporate traveller. Unique, interesting, or unusual translates to unpractical, unpredictable, or inconvenient. The goals of pleasure travel are totally oppositional to the goals of business travel, and the sharing economy model is built to appeal to the pleasure traveller. Airbnb does advertise business solutions, and rates certain listings as “work-friendly stays”, and cites cost-saving and employee happiness as the principal benefits of their service.
However, the simple truth is that home-sharing is not aligned with the central interests of business travel.
It’s very hard to believe that a single person running an inn out of their home can provide the scale of service that a building-full of paid hospitality professionals can. Similarly, it is unlikely that the host of a home listing can resolve an issue as quickly or responsively as a hotel staff. If a business traveller should manage to find a great listing, they’d have to travel to the same destination to book it again, and it might not provide the same experience, or even be available. The last point of concern is crucial: safety. A corporation is responsible for the safety of their people on the road, and while Airbnb has introduced background checks on hosts in some countries, their model, and others like them, simply cannot provide a necessary level of assurance.
Ambiguity is the principal weakness of home-sharing, where business travel is concerned, and it is a debilitating one. For the business traveller, reliability is critical; they can’t afford to lose time, money, or focus on an avoidable inconvenience. If the logistics, comfort, or amenities of the business traveller’s accommodations interfere with the purpose of their trip, it has failed fundamentally.