To meet this demand, a new movement - the sharing economy - has emerged, and business is booming. By 2025, the sharing economy will be worth over $335 billion and major players such as Airbnb have already become synonymous with thrifty rentals for personal holidays.
Yet adoption amongst the professional community is less enthusiastic. According to a study by the company itself, just 10% of Airbnb's bookings are business related.
It's clear the sharing economy isn't getting accommodation right for business travelers - and when we consider the value of their custom ($1.3 trillion), it's also missing a sizeable opportunity. If the sharing economy wants a slice of this lucrative industry, it must enhance its professional layer of services by blending travel security with modern convenience and tailoring.
But this begs the question: where to start?
What are business travel expectations
Thanks to advances in smart technology, many aspects of the sharing economy fulfill the key needs of business travelers: saving time and cost. There are tools that quickly find everything from food (GrubHub, Eat 24) to transport (Uber, Lyft), and there's even an app that can send a suitcase of seasonal clothing to specific destinations, leaving you baggage free (unpack).
Such services have made business travel easier and sent usage soaring, with Uber already outpacing rental car hire in the US. They have also blurred the lines between work and personal life, while ensuring employees are able to maintain an even balance - a factor that is especially important for a large proportion of business travelers: millennials. For the millennial worker, loyalty programs and offers are less enticing than tools that allow them to minimize the impact of travel on family time and enrich personal experiences. Yet despite its potential to tick all of these boxes, flexible shared accommodation is lagging behind.
Why accommodation is on the back foot
Offering private spaces, freedom, choice and lower costs, rental properties should be just as popular amongst business travellers as other services, so why aren't they?
The answer to this question lies in compliance. Many organizations don't have policies in place to cover the possible risks of shared rentals - indeed 75% don't have rules for sharing economy options at all - and exploring alterative options is therefore difficult for business travelers. This is largely because unlike hotels, which often have procedures dedicated to streamlining international travel, rental properties are subject to varied local regulations that companies must spend time understanding and aligning internal practices with before accommodation can be booked. And in addition to this, they also have to ensure duty of care obligations are met for employees, which means a one-size-fits-all policy won't cut it for shared renting; companies must create systems capable of adjusting to individual requirements.
How business rentals can evolve
To win the confidence - and budgets - of companies, the sharing economy must take a business-like approach to rentals. As well as highlighting the benefits to companies of more cost-effective travel options, providers need to develop more accommodation options that facilitate simple, fast and convenient booking, without compromising traveler or business safety.
The wheels for this change are already in motion - the sharing economy has a foundation of professional services to build from, with a number of pioneering travel platforms offering flexible choices for business travelers around the world. But further work is necessary and to build awareness of the solutions currently out in the market. There is also a need for a greater range of solutions that combine the best of hotels (robust compliance measures, clear invoicing and professional property management), with the versatility and autonomy rentals offer. By forging a middle-road that addresses security fears and improves employee experiences, providers can create a wealth of accommodation choices that not only reduce company expenses, but also boost employee happiness. Individuals will be able to live as locals, soaking up the local culture (not the hotel room) and saving on expenses by cooking at the property, while companies can be assured their people are safe.
Of course, this won't be a one-sided exchange and organizations need to amend processes too. More progressive travel policies will be vital for providers to show business travelers that renting can offer just as much peace of mind as hotels. Yet they will stand a better chance of doing so if the sharing economy strives to construct a blended professional layer of services that are dynamic, efficient and safe enough to match - or even surpass - the standards set by the likes of Uber. What traveler could resist a service as good as that?