The sharing economy is here: travel buyers take note

10 March 2017

The sharing economy, dominated by app-based services including ride-hailing app Uber and apartment rental service Airbnb, will likely play a part in your future travel policy – if it doesn’t already.

Travellers are now driving policy, and many are willing to go maverick if they feel the rules aren't keeping up with technology. They expect the convenience enjoyed from on-demand services in their personal lives to also be found at work.

“The stats say that 80% of business travellers are now millennials,” said Travis Bogard, head of Uber Enterprise, “and what we already saw with the consumerisation of IT is that expectation of personal life translates into your expectation of work and your business experience.”

This could leave some firms in a tight spot: more than a few businesses still feel sharing economy services carry too much risk to be made policy. But off-policy spend is already a problem many for travel buyers.

“I’ve always been very nervous of Uber, Airbnb from a security risk perspective,” said Nikki Rogan, global travel manager at digital security firm Symantec Corporation.

Such fears are not uncommon, despite claims from such services that the real-time data their services provide can improve security. “We were creating this highly connected digital platform that has information around where people are, where they’re getting dropped off, that can be shared with friends around the world,” said Bogard. 

Symantec allowed its travellers to use ride sharing, Rogan said, in spite of her concerns. The decision was made as part of a wider efficiency review. Nonetheless, Rogan said she has changed her way of thinking. “I have to listen to our travellers a lot more and they’re actually structuring the travel policy more from their side than we are our side now.

“And if you don’t go with the new trends, they’re just going to travel outside of the policy anyway, so we’ve had to adapt our way of thinking,” she added.

Whether or not firms approve the use of the sharing economy services, travel buyers need to start engaging with the players. “We know that there are people in the company that are using Uber outside of the ground transportation programme,” said Carol Neil, head of corporate travel for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Nomura, “so as a buyer I’d be silly not to try and embrace that and get involved and try and understand how we can bring that into our ground transportation programme.”

Opening up a travel policy is also a good way of getting maverick spenders back into the fold, which has its own benefits – as Unilever discovered when it opened up its hotel booking policy. The firm’s director of global travel services, Yvonne Moya, said she expects much better data on where travellers are staying and where hotel spend is going.

Getting stakeholders to buy into the policy is also important because managing travel demand can be a much better way of controlling spend than trying to cut prices. “It’s not going out there and negotiating harder,” said Moya. “It’s really managing demand. It’s more around the aspects of communication, do you need to travel, can you substitute by video conference?”

As Will Hasler, business travel manager at PwC, said: “The sharing economy is obviously here.” Now buyers need to decide how they want to react to it.

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