Last July, Airbnb announced its official foray into the world of business travel, partnering with travel management company Concur. The program, Business Travel on Airbnb, boasted the ability to help business travelers find a room and seamlessly handle their expense reports. It seemed like a smart way for Airbnb to take advantage of a ripe market: One survey found that roughly 10 percent of Airbnb's bookings already came from business travelers. "We've heard from traveler feedback that a dedicated site that caters to business travelers' needs has been high on their wishlist," the company explained.
In the year since, the service has been a great success. Business travel spending on Airbnb hit nearly $1 million in the first quarter of 2015, and continues to climb, reports The Economist.
But business travelers and conference goers could be forgiven for being a bit wary of trusting their trip to the still-nascent sharing economy. In many ways, it's still working the kinks out of its system. So when is Airbnb a better option than a hotel? What are the risks and assurances?
Kelly Taylor, who works on product for IBM Watson, says he's been using Airbnb to find business accommodations for several years. "For me, using Airbnb for business travel has been a low friction way to flow from one city to another," he writes.
One of the biggest benefits of Airbnb is the diverse list of amenities found in a home that you wouldn't normally get in your average cookie-cutter hotel room. "I really like having a kitchen," Lauren Hauber, who works for Wildlife Works, an environmental firm in California, tells The New York Times. "A lot of times they'll have washers and dryers. I don't feel like I'm losing anything by using an Airbnb." Taylor praises the luxury of a freezer for storing ice cream. It's these little touches that can help ease the pain of being away from home on business.
Then there's the cost. "In major cities I can always find an affordable room in an awesome location using Airbnb," Taylor says. Travel management platform Rocketrip says that booking through Airbnb saves travelers roughly $102 a night compared to booking through a hotel.
"It's often significantly cheaper to use Airbnb than a traditional hotel, not only because the sticker price is less, but because of the many additional and oft-forgotten perks of staying at a house," Evan Robinson, a freelance photographer and director, tells Entrepreneur.com.
That may not always be true, however, especially for larger groups, like business teams, which may need an entire house or apartment rather than a single room. One survey found that while renting a private room on Airbnb is about half the price of a hotel room, an entire apartment is only about 20 percent cheaper.
But it's not just about the money, says The Economist's Gulliver travel blog. "The rewards can be great — not so much because you will save money … but because the place you end up staying may be cooler, more interesting, and more spacious." Indeed, Airbnb often allows for a more personalized, intimate experience with a city that makes you feel more like a local than a tourist. Hosts can provide insider tips on local watering holes and attractions no hotel concierge has ever set eyes on.
Staying in a house can also put a new spin on corporate getaways, says Graig Mansfield, procurement manager at Vox Media. "If you put a bunch of people into a house instead of separate rooms, there's a whole collaborative feeling about it."
Now, for the trump card: the Wi-Fi problem.
Reliable Wi-Fi is the most important amenity for globetrotters, says a survey from Hotels.com. This is especially true for business travelers, who may be preparing for a presentation or need to respond to emails at all hours. With Airbnb, there's always a chance the internet connection will be painfully slow, or non-existent. "I'm a frequent Airbnb user for leisure travel, and can attest that a bad or nonexistent internet connection is a regular feature of the Airbnb travel experience, even when the service is promised by the renter," writes Roya Wolverson for Quartz.
But, as Taylor points out, "this is still a problem at hotels as well." At least with a hotel you have the added sense of security that comes with being able to pick up the phone and make a complaint with the front desk. With Airbnb, you're at the mercy of a host who may not even answer their phone, and for some, just the thought of that is a dealbreaker. "When I've had Airbnb internet troubles while traveling for business," Wolverson writes, "the panic was enough to turn me off using the service for business altogether."