Remember when Uber held an air of glamour? One person in the office would recount tales of an acquaintance of theirs who had recently visited New York and used the service, as everyone else lamented its lack of availability in the UK.
Same goes for Airbnb; the idea of staying in a beautiful Pinterest-esque apartment in which the owner had left a little basket of local delicacies for you to find on the kitchen table seemed not only novel, but also too good to be true, and horror stories soon emerged.
That was only four years ago.
Nowadays, they’re no big deal. The term ‘shared economy’ has even been coined in reference to the type of service that such organisations offer; shared economy now being defined as ‘individuals renting goods or services from other individuals using technology-based networks to facilitate the transactions’.
The reality is that there is still only a relatively small number of companies that have taken steps to incorporate the use of shared economies into their travel policy; a survey of 1,500 business travellers, conducted by Expert Flyer, revealed that 40% of respondents said that their company’s travel policy prohibits the use of non-traditional lodging, and 30% said that they were unsure of their company’s policy.
The ambiguity surrounding the use of shared economy services is plain to see; it’s presented a new stretch of previously uncharted territory for the travel management industry and many organisations remain unclear on whether they should incorporate the shared economy into their travel policy. However, where there is ambiguity there is an increased chance of traveller leakage, which in turn can lead to increased spend, skewed targets and more expense-related admin.
Whilst shared economy services may offer some benefits in terms of variety of accommodation for example, there are some highly considerable risks to bear in mind when deciding if the shared economy is the right fit for your organisation:
Duty of care – When anyone travels for business it is the duty of their employer to ensure, as much as possible, that their safety is uncompromised and so an employer must therefore feel confident that all lodgings and methods of transport are safe and secure.
Some of the new breed of suppliers are problematic in regards to duty of care due to the fact that individual proprietors and drivers aren’t as well funded or as professionally managed as well-established hotels or car service providers. For example, when booking accommodation in this way, safety and security requirements such as video cameras, fire detection systems, deadbolt locks and safes cannot be taken as standard practice.
Traveller inconvenience – Although shared economy services are designed to be quicker and more efficient than traditional methods of booking business travel, they often come without elements that most travellers expect as part of their business travel experience. With sharing economy accommodation, the ‘check in’ process is largely absent, with key-drop services often being charged as extra.
Due to the fact that most of the interaction between the shared economy service provider and the traveller must be done online, problems and frustrations could arise should the traveller need to contact their service provider in an emergency or at a time when they cannot find access to the Internet.
Corporate culture and traveller fit – Careful consideration to whether shared economy services are the right fit for your organisation’s culture is key, as encouraging employees to use these services rather than those that they are already used to could cause resistance and dissatisfaction – time spent away from home travelling can cause a certain amount of anxiety for some employees and they might find comfort in familiar services.
Surveys into the use of shared economy services have suggested that ‘Generation Y’ travellers prefer to travel this way; if your team is made up primarily of people outside of this generation then it may be worth finding out whether they would be happy to travel in a new way.
Although the sharing economy offers some undeniable benefits, it would be naive not to accept that these benefits often come at a price. As with anything in life, there is always a trade to be made and the good prices offered by shared economies may come at the price of traveller experience, policy transparency and administration time.