Tuesday 25 July 2017

Airbnb out to offer more room service to corporate travellers

Making business trips a pleasure is the room-booking firm’s pitch
Making business trips a pleasure is the room-booking firm’s pitch
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Airbnb, that disruptive new kid on the hospitality block, is dying to come in from the margins, however lucrative, and join the mainstream.

Already a major force in American corporate travel, it's pitching itself in the Irish market, saying that a quarter of a million companies use AirbnB for business trips.

And it's tapped into the millennial push to experience a destination city, not merely arrive back at a homogenous hotel room after eating in a cookie-cutter hotel restaurant that could be in Boston or Bangkok.

Indeed, Airbnb reveals that over half of business trips on its platform included a Saturday night stay, so presumably its customers are after 'bleisure' - that mix of business and pleasure where the corporate traveller experiences more of a city than just a hotel room and convention centre. It's an area that was also seen by Ben Harper of apartment rental giant Saco, which is due to open its own lifestyle-meets-business offering on Dublin's quays in the near future.

But why the big push by Airbnb in recent months? It could well be down to the fact that Airbnb was last valued at around $30bn - nearly $7bn more than the next most valuable hospitality company, Hilton Worldwide, which has a market cap of $23.33bn. And lets not forget that while Airbnb has more than two million listings in more than 191 countries it doesn't own a single brick, bed or pillow, so that huge valuation has to be justified year after year.

At present, a mere 10pc of trips on Airbnb are for work, and the company could do with taking a larger slice of the cake, with the global corporate travel market with the market set to be worth $1.6trn by 2020, according to US-based Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

The GBTA itself has found that, even in disruption-friendly states, there is still resistance to the likes of Airbnb from travel planners and companies, even though many employees are keen to embrace the trend. In a mirror image to Ireland and European tastes, ride-sharing with Uber or Lyft is par for the course nowadays, while accommodation is a different matter.

According to its Business Traveler Sentiment Index Global Report, published in January, only 30pc of business travellers in the US say home-sharing options are allowed by their employer's policies. Security of employees, and a company's duty of care to them while abroad, is a sticking point.

Airbnb, among others, is reacting with offers such as apartments with doorstep key pads, self check-in at destinations, business travel-ready listings of dwellings, plus booking tools aimed at travel planners. The marketing is slick (young professionals with lattes and MacBooks), and the product is a hit with younger corporate types, but a lot is riding on convincing their bosses that the sharing economy is one to be embraced.

n While much of the focus on connectivity revolves around Dublin Airport (still Europe's fifth-most important transatlantic hub), the provinces are also getting new services.

Shannon welcomed its new Lufthansa service to Frankfurt last weekend, with the route to Germany's biggest hub operating until the end of October. The service, although only once-weekly (departing Saturdays at 5.50pm) will boost links to Germany's financial heart, with the advantage of connectivity to some 200 destinations worldwide.

Meanwhile, the north west has a new service, twice daily from City of Derry Airport to London Stansted, offering good access to the British capital and the likes of Cambridge, England's technology 'Silicon Fen' tech hub. Operated by BMI regional, the 49-seater flight offers a free 23kg baggage allowance and complimentary drinks and snacks on board.

n Still Dublin continues to dominate, with the coming months seeing the equivalent of 60 flights to and from North America every day.

Airport authority DAA recently revealed that the number of seats to and from North America is up 23pc this year, with an extra 538,000 seats of capacity.

Peak summer months will see 10 airlines flying 414 flights per week to and from 15 destinations in the US and five destinations in Canada. Air Transat also announced during the week that it'll be extending its seasonal 'summer' Dublin-Toronto service by a month, with flights running up to November 25.

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