Business travellers moving to Airbnb

Companies large and small, increasingly focused on budgets, are starting to look beyond hotels to apartments and houses

Steve Puryear, a condo owner and Airbnb host who caters to business travelers, in Austin, Texas. Airbnb, which lets travelers rent space for short periods, has set up a portal to attract business travelers looking for alternatives to hotels. Photograph: Ilana Panich-Linsman/The New York Times

Steve Puryear, a condo owner and Airbnb host who caters to business travelers, in Austin, Texas. Airbnb, which lets travelers rent space for short periods, has set up a portal to attract business travelers looking for alternatives to hotels. Photograph: Ilana Panich-Linsman/The New York Times

 
Lauren HauberSan FranciscoAirbnb

– business and leisure – to rent space for short periods.

Hauber and two colleagues rented a three-bedroom condominium in downtown Austin, Texas, for this week’s SXSW Eco conference. The apartment was less expensive and more convenient than hotels in the area, she said, and it had other benefits. “I really like having a kitchen,” said Hauber, who does business development for Wildlife Works, an environmental firm in Mill Valley, California. “A lot of times they’ll have washers and dryers. I don’t feel like I’m losing anything by using an Airbnb.”

Budget focus

“We’re seeing really kind of shocking growth in the use of Airbnb by business travellers,” said Tim MacDonald, an executive vice-president with Concur, which designs software for managing business expenses and travel. Use of Airbnb properties by companies using the Concur system has surged in the past year, MacDonald said.

San Francisco, New York and Austin, as well as Paris and London, have been particularly popular destinations for business travellers opting for Airbnb, he said.

The service has been embraced especially in San Francisco, where hotel occupancy rates hover around 90 per cent, said Joe D’Alessandro, chief executive of the San Francisco Travel Association. During technology conferences like Oracle OpenWorld and Macworld, “the city’s basically in sellout mode,” D’Alessandro said.

Before Airbnb, “there were times when the city was full and people just couldn’t get in”.

The trend is part of a growing reliance on the so-called sharing economy, which also includes companies like the Uber car service and TaskRabbit, where clients can find people to help with everyday chores and other tasks. Although Airbnb declined to give the number of business travellers, at least 55 companies are using the site to plan business trips, said Lex Bayer, who heads Airbnb’s business development.

The site’s new business portal mostly excludes shared apartments and quirkier properties, like boats and treehouses, in favour of entire houses or apartments, Bayer said.

The service has proved popular with property owners, he said, especially since business travel helps fill vacant sites during the week. “Typically business travellers are good travellers,” he said. “Hosts enjoy having them.” Among those who have benefited is Steve Puryear, who said up to two-thirds of the guests in his Austin condominium – including Hauber and her colleagues – were business travellers. The headline on his Airbnb listing makes his preference clear: “Perfect 4 Executives/Professionals.”

Steer towards business

Jon Gray

HomeAway, which runs VRBO and VacationRentals. com, among other sites, is looking at a new site focusing on homes in urban areas, however, Gray said. Increased business travel may “come along for the ride,” he said.

Increased competition from Airbnb and others will force hotels to find ways to bring back business travellers, said Michael W McCormick, chief operating officer of the Global Business Travel Association. “I think Airbnb is bringing something different to a different segment of the marketplace.” – (New York Times Service)