Airbnb sees business travel surge as site competes with hotels

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Since debuting in 2008, Airbnb Inc has marketed itself to adventurous vacationers looking for unique and cheap accommodations. Next week, the San Francisco-based travel upstart will get a bit more buttoned up.

Airbnb plans to introduce a search tool on May 1 designed for business travellers. The feature will allow professionals to filter homes and apartments that Airbnb has deemed Business Travel Ready.

To qualify for a BTR listing, as the company calls it, the dwelling must have a desk, WiFi, self-check-in through a doorman or digital lock and various amenities you’d expect at a hotel, like free shampoo, a hairdryer and iron.

According to Airbnb, 90% of its customers are vacationers. The company attempted to capitalise on its core business last year by adding tourism services, such as hat-making tutorials in London and off-road motorcycle excursions in Los Angeles. But Airbnb sees expense accounts as a big opportunity.

 US business travel spending is expected to reach US$296bil (RM1.28tril) by the end of this year and climb 5.2% next year, according to the Global Business Travel Association, a trade group.

There were 250 companies signed up with Airbnb to book and manage business travel in 2015. Last year, the number of people using the site for business purposes tripled and is expected to quadruple this year, said David Holyoke, the head of Airbnb’s business travel division.

There are now more than 250,000 companies using it, including Alphabet Inc, Domino’s Pizza Inc and Morgan Stanley. “As millennials advance in the workforce, we’re seeing incredible growth,” said Holyoke. “These young business people want to feel at home on the road.”

Airbnb closed a funding round last month that valued the business at about US$31bil (RM134.57bil), Bloomberg reported at the time. This makes it more valuable than Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc, Hyatt Hotels Corp and Wyndham Worldwide Corp. To remain ahead of these hotel giants, Airbnb will need to draw in more lucrative travellers, including corporate jet setters.