Power Panel: Is it too risky to book travellers on Uber and Airbnb?

With the ubiquity, as well as cost-saving possibilities, of the sharing economy, it was only a matter of time before corporates would need to consider it for their travellers. Frequent travellers might even prefer it themselves, as many years of hotels and taxis often lead to travel fatigue, and having a ‘home’ to unwind in is often preferable to a sterile hotel suite. But is it considered safe enough for corporates?

What travel buyers say:

Many corporates do not allow travellers to book Airbnb or Uber as it does not form part of their travel policies because they are unable to adequately manage the risks associated with the sharing economy.

Carole Graaff, category manager: group travel at Ericsson, says the company has not officially endorsed Airbnb and Uber in its travel programme.

“We are, however, aware that some of our travellers are using these platforms outside the current recommendation.” Travellers have a desire to use these platforms and, for this reason, it is essential for companies to start looking at ways in which to add these to their travel policies.

What TMCs say:

Marco Ciocchetti, ceo of XL Travel says: “We need to accept evolution and change; we need to adapt. Both Airbnb and Uber, while initially leisure products, have responded to customer needs and brought a business offering to the market.”

Ciocchetti does not believe that it is a problem from a duty-of-care perspective. “It is essential to give the traveller the tools they need to meet the safety and security requirements. Adoption of sharing economies is increasing in the US and Europe, and SA is likely to follow suit.”

What frequent business travellers say:

Duane Dell’Oca, freelance sports commentator, believes it is safe to use these platforms but to take logical precautions as you would anywhere in the world. “Whenever using an Uber, I get into the front of the car, so that it looks like a friend is picking me up, rather than a driver. Uber drivers are targeted in numerous countries, so it’s about the little tricks that will help keep you safe.”

Other travellers said they would be happy to stay in an Airbnb, if the safety ratings were of a certain standard. Using Uber or Lyft, similarly is not a problem due to the tracking abilities available through the apps. One traveller noted: “I use these platforms when I travel for personal reasons, and I feel perfectly safe. There are measures that can be taken to ensure that you stay at the safest place possible, and companies could perhaps have a selection of preferred suppliers from that category.”

What security experts say:

German Castro, co-ordinating security manager at International SOS believes that booking on a shared economy platform should be considered on a case-by-case basis. “In South Africa, it’s mostly reliable. One needs to understand the threat context though. How many trips are completed daily? When that is taken into consideration you can see that the likelihood of danger is minimal. With the new safety features – the itinerary, estimated time of arrival, driver details etc. are all shareable – which makes it easy to track your traveller.”

When it comes to Airbnb, however, Castro says it is more difficult to measure the standard of security, and that minimum security measures should be implemented. “If the traveller is staying in a low-risk destination, then it should not be a problem. Again, if the travel manager provides detailed and nuanced information for the destination, the traveller should have no difficulties.” 

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