You can't book a treehouse on Airbnb's new business service. Or a houseboat. Or single rooms in shared apartments or houses that could end up also occupied by a drunken host or a meth addict or a prostitute.
That's a good thing. Going business casual could just be the thing to make the almost-six-year-old startup finally grow up.
Airbnb announced Monday that it will work with Concur, which manages travel for more than 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies, to help business travelers book rooms and manage their expenses. The company's professional option will select from its more than 800,000 listings to find rooms that are available immediately and have wireless Internet.
The partnership offers credibility to a trend Airbnb says is already taking place. It claims that almost 10 percent of its customers use the sharing service for business, preferring the convenience and uniqueness of renting places in residential neighborhoods to the cookie-cutter offerings of a standard hotel room. More than 30 companies -- including Evernote, Eventbrite, Facebook and Lyft -- have signed up.
Of course, it will take more than other young technology companies using the service for Airbnb to break into the business travel industry, which is expected to generate $1.2 trillion in revenue worldwide this year. Still, if it manages the transition from play to work, it could offer a welcome change of scenery in an industry that's traditionally been dominated by the big hotel chains.
Airbnb's focus on business also offers an experiment in how the sharing business model evolves to attract new types of consumers. Valued at $10 billion, Airbnb has become a poster child for the sharing economy -- offered as a sign of its benefits and a warning of its risks. Recently, Airbnb has faced new challenges: a legal battle over user data in New York, and a public-relations nightmare over a squatter in California.
Business travelers don't have the time or patience to deal the inconveniences of sketchy renters, price scams or other hurdles Airbnb renters have faced in the past. By courting them, Airbnb is taking on extra pressure to improve service and guarantee safety. Regulators and government officials who have become increasingly concerned about whether Airbnb's customers are breaking the law will be watching.
But I also wouldn't be worried that any company willing to roll out this new logo will get too conventional either.
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