Earlier this month, Uber and Airbnb entered the business travel market, spurring other travel brands to take notice and adjust the way they market their offerings. The two “sharing economy” services enable consumers to share things like car rides and apartments and they’ve largely catered to millennial consumers. Now that they’re aiming for a new audience, travel brands such as Hyatt and United are testing how they, too, can participate in the sharing economy game.
With business travel on the rise, the market looks lucrative even to industry outsiders. The Global Business Travel Association expects spending on business travel to increase around 7 percent this year to about $1.18 trillion, of which $292.3 billion will be spent in the U.S.
Following recent rebranding and marketing efforts, Airbnb dedicated a section of its website to business travelers. "It's about making it easier to find accommodations that are appropriate for work trips,” Lex Bayer, head of business development and global payments at Airbnb, tells USA Today. He says that accommodations will focus on key features like Internet and Wi-Fi access. Uber recently added the ability for employees to charge rides to a corporate account, and a dashboard lets managers decide who’s approved for travel and when.
Both Airbnb and Uber struck deals with spending management company Concur, allowing users to automatically expense rides and stays using Concur’s TripLink service. Other travel companies are including Uber’s API into their own apps. Hyatt lets users book a ride in its “My Reservations” screen. Expensify, an expense-tracking app, offers automated car-hailing. The app tracks flight status, prompts travelers to select the type of car they’d like upon landing, and auto-dispatches a vehicle to the airport.
Airbnb says that nearly 10 percent of its customers travel for business and that many of them have used the service to find accommodations for relocations or larger group meetings. But the buttoned-up business crowd isn’t necessarily champing at the bit to stay in tree houses or tents (valid options for Airbnb customers) at the next convention. "A lot of clients who send their people to travel to Latin America, Africa, Middle East and Asia — they don't just want a taxi booked," Stewart Harvey, group commercial director for corporate travel agency Hogg Robinson Group PLC, tells The Wall Street Journal. "They want us to work with partners that vet their drivers. When they go to these places, they will stay in five-star hotels because they want more security."
For Ted Wham, vice president of travel industry solutions at Oracle Marketing Cloud, the integration of Uber with other travel brands doesn't yet have huge implications for the business travel industry. “In the United app, the Uber integration is basically linking to the Uber app already on my phone. It didn’t offer much incremental value to me,” Wham says.
As business travel continues to grow, and consumers demand sharing economy services, we’ll likely see more brands trying to capture both trends. For the first time, both Uber and Airbnb had booths at a recent Global Business Travel Association conference.
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