Airbnb for the Business Traveller

Article Image

Airbnb for the Business Traveller

Business Travel is evolving and with the sharing economy growing at such a rapid pace travel bookers and travel management companies need to keep on top of these changes in order ensure that their travellers are safe.

This week a selection of "collaborative economy" companies including Airbnb, Uber and TaskRabbit wrote an open letter to the European Union calling for member states to stop clamping down on their businesses.   The letter called for EU member states to “continue to seek to ensure that local and national laws do not unnecessarily limit the development of the collaborative economy to the detriment of Europeans”.

But what does this actually mean?    Surely the local and national laws are in place for a reason!   Take Airbnb for example.   There has recently been a lot of reporting from around the world on the safety aspects of using the service which has raised a few issues!  

For one there’s the fire safety aspect.  Hotel and B&B's must follow strict fire safety rules and regulations and are inspected at regular intervals by the relevant authorities.  However, when you book accommodation through Airbnb this is someone’s home so it is unlikely to have had a fire safety inspection.   This is the same for gas and carbon monoxide safety, does the property have the relevant gas certificate, appropriate monitors and smoke detectors?  

While Airbnb makes recommendations of “responsible hosting” these are not mandatory and you are basically staying in someone's home and at the mercy of what they deem to be safe.

There is also the issue of guest safety.   There was the much reported case in 2015 of the 19 year old American Jacob Lopez, who used the service to book accommodation in Madrid.   During the stay Lopez texted his mother to say his host had locked him inside an apartment and was threatening him to submit to a sexual act.

Lopez’s mother reportedly called Airbnb for help, however staff would not call the police or disclose the address where her son was staying.  They told her to contact the Madrid police and ask them to call the company instead.   She said the number she was given by staff repeatedly disconnected, and when she tried to call her contact at Airbnb the calls went straight to voicemail.  Lopez said he was sexually assaulted that night, and was later freed by his host and has since undergone trauma therapy.

Since this particular incident and the publicity that has arisen from it, Airbnb have added a number of safeguards in place to protect hosts and guests, including a 24/7 support team and they have clarified their internal policies for emergency situations.  

While this is a great step forward for guest safety.  One can’t help but ask if Mr Lopez had been staying in a hotel, the hotel would most likely have handled the situation differently, with their internal procedures meaning he would have been checked on or perhaps by calling the police straight away.

So while these types of incidents are thankfully rare, we have to ask are they worth the risk?    Are you happy to send your employees to self regulated accommodation with unknown hosts or would you rather they stay in hotels where regulations are in place?