13 September 17 The Business Times by VIKRAM KHANNA
INITIALLY targeted at mainly tourists, the home-sharing platform Airbnb is now becoming increasingly popular among business travellers in the Asia-Pacific (APAC), according to David Holyoke, the company's global head of business travel.
Since 2015, when Airbnb rolled out a programme targeted specifically at business travellers called Airbnb for Work, more than 250,000 companies worldwide have enrolled in the programme with about 18,000 corporate accounts being added each month.
About 53,000 companies in APAC have signed up, including technology companies such as Alphabet (formerly Google), Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce, Paypal and LinkedIn, and others such as Deloitte, Hyundai Motor and Morgan Stanley.
Corporate travel bookings on Airbnb in APAC have soared fivefold between 2016 and 2017. The Global Business Travel Association estimates that APAC accounts for about 40 per cent of the US$1.2 trillion spent globally on business travel every year, which is about US$480 billion.
Airbnb expects that APAC's business travel spend will grow to US$645 billion a year and will make up 30 per cent of its business travel segment by 2020.
About 75 per cent of APAC business travel is within the region. The five biggest markets are China, Japan, South Korea, India and Australia.
Mr Holyoke said that in Singapore, Airbnb is still working with the government to "legitimise" the home-sharing market. At present, Airbnb rentals violate URA regulations, which stipulate that residential properties must have a minimum lease tenure of three continuous months. Airbnb is therefore focusing on outbound travel from Singapore.
Alvan Aiau Yong, its business travel lead for Asia-Pacific, said many multinational companies with a presence in Singapore have enrolled in Airbnb's business travel programme.
However, Airbnb faces competition - not only from hotels, but also other online booking platforms.
The travel portal Expedia targets business travellers through its corporate travel booking engine Egencia. Singapore also has a niche player called MetroResidences, which caters to corporate employees travelling for a month or more.
At a media briefing in Airbnb's Singapore office yesterday, Mr Holyoke said Airbnb is targeting the "bleisure" market where travellers combine business trips with vacations. The average length of stay is six nights.
The use of Airbnb for business travel is particularly popular among millenials (typically people in their mid-30s and younger), but is also catching on among older travellers.
Mr Holyoke said: "We're seeing more and more business travellers looking for unique accommodations that match their lifestyle, similar to the authentic experiences that come from leisure travel."
Most Airbnb accommodations are typically outside central business districts, which is an attraction for some travellers who believe that this enables them to make the most of their leisure time.
Cost is also an attraction. Mr Holyoke said that during the first half of 2017, Airbnb accommodation rates averaged US$102 per night globally, about 45 per cent cheaper than the US$187 per night charged by hotels. In APAC, Airbnb accommodations were 49 per cent cheaper.
Out of the approximately four million accommodations on its platform, Airbnb classifies a curated selection as being "business travel ready".
To qualify, a lodging must meet a number of criteria. It must constitute an entire home, have 24 hour check-in, Wi-Fi, a laptop-ready workspace, safety features such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, basic toiletries and other amenities, as well as a high proportion of five-star reviews from previous guests.
Business travellers can search for "business travel ready" listings on Airbnb and bill their accommodations direct to their employers once they have enrolled in the programme. Airbnb also provides tools that enable travel managers and executive assistants to make bookings on behalf of other company staff.
Travel managers have access to a dashboard through which they can tell at a glance where staff are travelling, where they are staying, for how long and how much the company is being billed. They can also communicate with staff members on the platform and access detailed reports on billings.
Airbnb has also forged partnerships with external travel service providers such as Americal Express Global Business Travel, Concur and BCD Travel, which provide services to Airbnb business travellers via their portals.