How to get leadership buy-in to launch Airbnb for Work
The path to securing executive-level acceptance to officially incorporate Airbnb for Work can take a few twists and turns, even in companies where employees are already using Airbnb for business travel beneath policy radar.
But with a combination of a little legwork and a dose of diplomacy, you can present a compelling case to C-suite stakeholders about the many ways a partnership with Airbnb for Work will benefit both employees and the company.
To begin, “the issue is due diligence,” said Robert Langsfeld, consultant and founder of The Corporate Solutions Group, a travel management and auditing firm. Langsfeld advises proponents of incorporating Airbnb for Work to gather travel spend data, employee feedback, and peer support (within and outside the company) to build a case that’s persuasive to senior leadership.
Langsfeld recommends that travel managers first examine booking data captured by the company’s online booking engine, travel management company, and corporate credit card. From there, a travel manager can begin to paint a picture for leadership of where employees travel the most, where they stay, and what they pay. Then, a manager can assess where Airbnb properties can drive savings and enhance employee satisfaction—issues of concern to all leadership teams that will open the door to discussions. During those discussions, directly addressing safety and security concerns are critical for executive acceptance.
Bubble up buy-in from below
In many companies, employees are booking Airbnb accommodations for business travel using their personal accounts, before official adoption of Airbnb for Work. In many others, employees want to book Airbnb when traveling for work, but don’t want to venture outside company policy on preferred lodging providers. Travel managers can help drive official acceptance of Airbnb for Work by presenting the experiences, opinions, and travel choices of these employees, and showing use and savings patterns to C-suite leaders.
At Silvercar, a mobility technology firm providing Audi A4 car rentals, existing employee use of Airbnb for business travel was a key driver of leadership buy-in to officially partner with Airbnb for Work. According to Kay Stroman, Chief Administrative Officer, Silvercar employees and consultants had been booking Airbnb for business travel for several years prior to official incorporation of Airbnb for Work.
“Silvercar has a fairly young population,” Stroman said, estimating an average of somewhere between 35 and 40 years. The company also has a “kindred appreciation” for companies like Airbnb, which also helped position the company with Silvercar’s leadership team. As more and more business travelers and consultants booked Airbnb, momentum grew for official incorporation into the travel program, and Airbnb for Work was formally accepted as a Silvercar travel service provider.
We had a lot of ‘Boxers’ wanting to stay in Airbnb. We shared that feedback with everyone in management, and they finally conceded, and enabled it in our T&E policy.
Box, a cloud content management company based in Redwood City, Calif., had a similar experience. Some senior executives were initially reluctant to add Airbnb, said Stefanie Layne, Box Treasurer and Chief of Staff to the CFO, noting, “Our chief of finance always stayed in hotels.” Additionally, the company’s procurement team wasn’t very supportive. “But we had a lot of ‘Boxers’ wanting to stay in Airbnb,” she said. “We shared that feedback with everyone in management, and they finally conceded, and enabled it in our T&E policy.”
When Elena Warburton, Director of Global Travel at RingCentral, a cloud communications provider, introduced Airbnb for Work to the company’s leadership team, “It was definitely taken with a lot of skepticism,” she said. “However, we all know that people bring their personal habits to work and that Airbnb is gaining in popularity every minute.” Warburton said she made the case for existing employee use and positioned Airbnb for Work, “as a choice, an opportunity to save.”
She also emphasized that staying in an Airbnb improves work-life balance by providing travelers with unique experiential opportunities to explore and feel they are more like a citizen or resident of their destination “rather than a tourist, a visitor, or a business traveler.” RingCentral officially incorporated Airbnb for Work in 2016; the number of employees signed on as registered users grew from about 30 at launch to more than 185 in the first 12 months.
Educate your executives
If simply presenting employee feedback and existing use patterns of Airbnb is not persuasive enough, conducting a survey can help travel managers make the statistical case for Airbnb at Work to company leaders. Scott Gillespie, CEO at tClara, a firm that helps companies analyze and benchmark travel data, recommends travel managers conduct an employee survey to determine what lodging options they use for personal travel, and if they have a strong preference for sharing economy travel providers like Airbnb. Presenting the results to company execs could help secure approval.
“It’s practical to appeal to senior management and educate them on the millennial’s view of the shared economy,” said Al Mazzola, Director of Global Finance and Travel Services for Sykes. “At a minimum, they should see what it’s like to be able to relate to their millennial employees.”
Sykes, a global business process outsourcing firm founded in 1977, is a more conventional corporate environment than Silvercar, Box, and RingCentral. Mazzola said his firm is conducting a beta test of Airbnb for Work with approximately 15 employees to gather their feedback and data on the measurable impact using Airbnb has on lodging cost savings and traveler satisfaction. Results will be shared with executives as part of making the case for official incorporation of Airbnb for Work into Sykes travel policy.
CSG’s Langsfeld believes that executives who haven’t personally experienced shared travel services will be more open to adopting Airbnb for Work if travel managers draw parallels between Airbnb and more traditional lodging offerings like extended stay properties and all-suite hotels.
“Providing more home-like accommodations for employees goes back to the mid-90s,” Langsfeld said, when companies like Extended Stay America were founded. “Quite a few senior executives are more familiar with this product, and travel managers can draw comparisons to them. The concept of providing travelers with an experience that makes them feel more comfortable on the road is one way to start gaining buy-in.”
Present the case for cost savings
If employee feedback and gentle education don’t work to secure executive buy-in, travel managers can focus on illustrating the cost savings opportunities of Airbnb for Work. By arming themselves with accurate and comprehensive internal booking data, and presenting research from authoritative external sources that show the cost differential between sharing economy accommodation providers and hotels, travel managers who want to incorporate Airbnb for Work into their travel policies can make a strong factual case for real savings for their company's business model.
“We’re finding a tremendous opportunity to provide gains for corporations by introducing sharing economy travel services,” Langsfeld said. “Take cities like San Francisco or Boston, where hotel rates are unbelievable. Airbnb can be very valuable to a company that needs to reduce expenses traveling to popular urban destinations.”
Noted Mazzola, “It’s easy enough to determine an average room rate for Airbnb and compare it to your average booked rate for the same metropolitan area, then find rates at the nearest three-star and four-star hotels. I would bet the Airbnb rates would almost always be lower.” For more formal research, Mazzola and others recommend purchasing reports from Smith Travel Research, which is considered a global authority on lodging rates and trends.
You can find some great deals with Airbnb. As our volume increases, the more we can encourage employees to use Airbnb, and the more the dollars add up.
Travel managers who have incorporated Airbnb for Work regularly report that using Airbnb for business travel results in savings of 20 percent to 40 percent off the average daily rate for a preferred hotel in the same market.
Silvercar has already seen the cost savings, and expects more as more employees register for Airbnb for Work using their company email address. “As a company, we travel quite a bit,” Stroman said. “You can find some great deals with Airbnb. As our volume increases, the more we can encourage employees to use Airbnb, and the more dollars add up.”
Address safety issues
Some senior executives are reluctant to partner with Airbnb for Work based on safety concerns, specifically around protecting employees and managing the company’s risk.
“We had to talk a lot about security,” as Box was considering formally adding Airbnb for Work to its travel policy, Layne said. “It was a little difficult, figuring out the process and managing duty of care outside our travel portal. We had to provide senior leaders with the confidence that we could track employees in the event we needed to get a hold of them. But Airbnb has done a brilliant job addressing safety.”
“Safety has to be addressed,” Mazzola said. “It is a very legitimate issue. But once you educate yourself on [the Airbnb for Work] product and see where you can integrate it, there are generally good answers to present to senior leadership.”
Travel managers can confidently explain Airbnb’s commitment to earning the trust and ensuring the safety and security of its global community to company leaders. Airbnb has a robust Trust team, comprised of a diverse array of experts including 24/7 response agents, engineers, data scientists, product managers, designers, law-enforcement liaisons, crisis managers, and victim-advocacy specialists.
That’s in addition to the company’s deep bench of experts in policy, privacy, cybersecurity, insurance, and fraud issues. Airbnb for Work also has integrations with four duty of care providers including iSOS, WorldAware, UnitedHealthcare Global, and Anvil. If your company has contracted with one of these providers, duty of care requirements will be enabled for Airbnb bookings.
By addressing safety concerns with senior management, presenting the case for cost savings, and sharing the experiences, opinions, and travel choices of employees already using Airbnb, you can make a strong case for official adoption of Airbnb for Work in your company travel program.