Airbnb makes first big trip into business travel

The popular short-term-rental service unveils a two-prong strategy to become a major player in the business travel market.

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Airbnb unveiled two advances designed to help it gain more market share in the business travel industry. Screenshot by CNET

Already a big part of many business travelers' lives, Airbnb is making its first real trip into the business world.

The popular short-term-rental service said today that it's launching Business Travel on Airbnb, a new portal designed to make it easy for business travelers to find and book accommodations that suit their needs. The portal was also built to help companies better manage employee travel programs.

In addition, Airbnb said it's partnering with Concur, whose Triplink system is used by 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies to manage travel expensing and management. According to Airbnb, Concur has reported that every year since 2010, business travelers' spending on Airbnb accommodations has quadrupled.

Airbnb hopes that together, the two advances will help smooth the company's reach into the corporate travel market by making it possible for businesses, and their employees, to use the service, mainly by streamlining and formalizing the processes used to book and expense Airbnb accommodations.

That $10 billion valuation

Earlier this year, Airbnb was valued at $10 billion, thanks to a new funding round. That, according to the Wall Street Journal, made the company worth more on paper than huge hotel chains such as Wyndham and Hyatt Hotels. Earlier this month it unveiled a new consumer-oriented look and feel, adopting a "people, places, love" theme.

Now, in an interview, Lex Bayer, Airbnb's head of global payments and business development, said more than 30 companies, including Salesforce.com, Evernote, Eventbrite, and Lyft, have already been using Business Travel on Airbnb. Bayer said the biggest benefit to the companies has been making it simple for managers to track their employees' travel and expenses when staying at places booked on Airbnb.

Plus, he said, integrating Airbnb into these companies' travel systems ensures that the stays fall under company travel policies, something that's been a concern at many companies in the past.

Visitors to the new portal can search for listings friendly toward business travelers. Bayer said those would be a subset of Airbnb's full roster of 800,000 listings that includes only entire homes, and excludes shared listings and things like unusual properties such as tree houses or houseboats. The portal also favors Airbnb listings that offer instant booking, reducing the amount of back and forth that's necessary to reserve an apartment or house.

Bayer said Airbnb is not aiming its new business program at the kind of "road warriors" who move around from city to city every day. Rather, it's focusing on more leisurely business travelers, the kind who expect to stay a few days, and maybe even tack on some vacation. At the same time, Airbnb is hoping to attract clients that want to book accommodations for multiple employees. "Rather than [have a meeting] in a conference room," he said, "they can have it at a home overlooking Lake Tahoe, or do it on a couch."

 

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