WITH over three million listings and a presence in 65,000 cities in over 191 countries, Airbnb, the world’s most well known home-rental app, is geared up to revitalize the travel industry once again, this time by wooing business travelers. And it has its sights set on Asia, known to be the world’s fastest-growing region for business travel.
The San Francisco-based company has been ramping up efforts to attract business travelers in Asia by promoting a feature that filters search results for “Business Travel Ready” accommodation.
Users must sign in with a work-related email address to enable the feature, which was introduced in 2015.
Globally, the number Airbnb listings on the platform that are verified as “Business Travel Ready” is growing at a rate of 1.65x, according to Alvan Aiau Yong, Airbnb head of business travel, Asia Pacific.
“Airbnb for Work is increasingly popular among business travelers, as it allows them to live like a local while staying in homes that cater to their various needs,” he told Travel Wire Asia.
To be approved as a business travel ready listing, a property must meet certain conditions.
- The rental must be an “entire home or apartment” in a centralized location and allow self check-in.
- Its rating should be at least three stars, prohibit smoking and does not have pets on the premises.
- Basic amenities like wireless Internet, a laptop-friendly work area, fresh linens, toiletries, hangers, a clothes iron and fire safety devices must also be provided by the host.
Airbnb’s focus on repositioning itself in the Asian business travel sector stems from the region’s rise as the most robust market in the industry.
Business travel in Asia has more than doubled since 2000, according to analysis by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), and that growth is expected to surpass Europe and North America this year.
In traditional bookings, brand name trust and points redemption programs have been fundamental to the success of hotel chains in monopolizing the business travel accommodation market. But just like how Airbnb made waves in leisure travel, it can replicate the same kind of disruption in business travel, thanks to the digital world.
A report commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board on business travelers in Asia revealed that online and mobile channels are 28 percent more common than traditional methods of travel researching and booking, with mobile channels emerging as the most potential for growth.
The willingness of travelers to consider Airbnb as a corporate option also corresponded with age – not surprisingly, millennials are 11 percent more open to the non-traditional hotel room.
This, says Yong, is what his company is banking on for future growth.
“With 75 percent of the global workforce projected to be millennials by 2025 – and many of them freelancers who can work from anywhere – it’s clear that the business travelers of tomorrow will increasingly want this type of unique work travel experience.”
Worldwide, business travel is an industry worth over US$1 trillion annually, according to the GBTA, with a third of that revenue coming from Asia, a market that is widely projected to surge ahead of other markets in the next few years.
Airbnb’s corporate usage is still in the smaller percentages compared to bookings for leisure; however its growth is promising. Of the 250,000 companies that have signed on to use Airbnb for Work, 53,000 are based in Asia, says Yong.
Based on Airbnb’s own numbers, business travel bookings in Asia increased by five times between 2016 and 2017, pulling ahead of the global average by 4.3 times during the same time frame.
Understanding Asian business travelers
The Singapore Tourism Board report on Asian business travelers studied five key markets: China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore, which collectively represent 68 percent of the population in Asia and over 78 percent of business travel spending in the region. Findings of the report revealed several key characteristics that help define the needs and traits of Airbnb’s current target market – the Asian business traveler.
Corporate travel managers who were surveyed for the study indicated a shift by employers away from the constraining “command and control” methods, and towards a more flexible policy of allowing employees to select their own preferred ways of travel, providing better incentives to those who manage their spending responsibly.
The implication of this greater freedom of choice is that it creates an advantage for employees who travel often. Rather than marketing to the companies themselves, it allows accommodation companies like Airbnb to focus their promotional initiatives on the individual business traveler.
Another factor identified as a key characteristic of the Asian business traveler is the preference for convenience, as well as unique travel experiences. The convenience factor measured evenly across all types of travelers – whether they were from a younger or older generation, frequent or infrequent travelers – and it was cited as the most common reason for employees to book travel arrangements outside of company policy.
Viewed as a perk, Asian business travelers, especially those from China and India, are twice more likely to extend their business trips to include a few days of leisure than their European counterparts.
This ties in nicely with the Airbnb Experiences feature, where hosts facilitate events to help travelers discover the city like a local.
From learning to make soup dumplings in Hong Kong to a moving meditation class in New Delhi, Asian business travelers are open to trying unique events while on the road.
Still, there isn’t a regional consensus on using Airbnb for business purposes.
In Indonesia and China, respondents were the most enthusiastic, at 41 percent and 38 percent respectively, whilst in Singapore and Japan, only 20 percent and 10 percent respectively, responded favorably to the idea of booking on Airbnb, indicating some level of skepticism.
Conveniences extend to services like housekeeping and room service, which others are unwilling to part with.
“Business trips are short and time is vital. The Airbnb convenience bar is lower than hotels’ and inconsistent from one property to the next,” writes Craig Fichtelberg, corporate travel president at AmTrav in an article on Business Travel News.
“Airbnb will need to raise the convenience bar across its properties to achieve the business travel adoption the company is striving for.”
Safety is of prime concern, which is perhaps why travel managers who participated in the Singapore Tourism Board study had “flatly ruled out sharing economy accommodation or are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude.”
One travel manager wrote, “Duty of care is one of the key elements of any corporate travel program.”
In response to this criticism, Yong points out the Airbnb for Work dashboard that allows travel managers to view where every employee is traveling, staying, and if they’re booking with additional guests.
“The Airbnb for Work dashboard also integrates other duty of care providers like iJET and ISOS, so managers can see where employees are staying,” he adds.
Even as the late adopters continue pondering the pitfalls of Airbnb as a business travel accommodation option, the company pushes on with plans to make waves the business travel market.
“People all over the world are looking for a different kind of travel,” says Yong. “They want to see the true personality of a place and have authentic, unique and memorable experiences – and this is also true when traveling for work.”