Almost 90% of business travellers in South Africa are using sharing economy services such as Uber and Airbnb for business travel purposes, with as many as 40% without the permission or endorsement of their companies.

This is according to a recent survey conducted by FCM Travel Solutions and the African Business Travel Association (ABTA), which indicated that only 15% of South African corporates have included use of sharing economy services in their travel policies.

As the line between leisure and business travel begins to blur, business travellers are increasingly dictating how they travel, relying on technology they use in their private lives in a business environment for their convenience.

Says Euan McNeil: “Getting business travellers to comply with the company’s travel policy in this environment is becoming increasingly difficult and can be a nightmare for travel managers who want to keep a tight control over their staff travel to monitor costs and ensure their travellers’ safety.”

Uber and Airbnb have recognised the potential that the business travel market holds, explains Monique Swart, ABTA founder. “Both companies have expanded their services to speak specifically to business travel stakeholders, including the ability to pull spending data for travel managers and populate expense reports in expense management tools so that there’s complete oversight over travel spend.”

For companies, assessing whether to include sharing economy services within their travel programme because their travelling staff are using them anyway and contravening travel policy, there are several supplier and traveller concerns that need to be weighed up, including the Duty of Care requirement to ensure the safety and security of your employees when travelling on business.

“Companies looking at sharing economy services in their travel policy should carefully weigh up the pros and cons with an expert from their travel management company to determine when and how these services might be appropriate and to create a solution for data capture to ensure the organization meets its Duty of Care obligations for employees who are on business and that expenses are properly accounted for,” explains McNeil.

For business travellers, there are several benefits including more flexibility among existing travel providers as they compete with sharing economy services for the business travel buck, for example large hotels which are now allowing more flexible check-in and check-out times and established transfer operators introducing pick-up apps on mobile platforms.  

The key to the use of these services for travellers is convenience, more so than cost. “Travellers use these tools in their personal lives and will use them in their business life too. It’s imperative therefore that companies implement clear policies about the use of sharing economy services such as Airbnb and Uber.

“Despite certain conveniences, travellers need to be warned that the use of sharing economy services could have an impact on their experience if, for instance, they have difficulty getting the keys to gain entry in the case of an Airbnb lodging, or if something goes wrong, which is where the company’s duty of care responsibilities then kicks in,” concludes McNeil.