17 experts advise on what’s to come this year. Spoiler: Data factors big.
The Innovate Conference for the Advancement of Business Travel offered business travel executives the opportunity to articulate priorities and recommendations.
Airbnb head of business travel David Holyoke talks:
Airbnb is quickly carving a place for itself in the managed
travel space. In the past two years, the company has launched
tools geared toward travel managers, partnered
with a corporate lodging provider, opened its business platform up to third-party
bookings and inked
deals with the three mega travel management companies. According to Concur,
another Airbnb partner, Airbnb's initiatives are working, as use among
corporate travelers increases. Now, Airbnb has tapped an executive from within
the corporate travel industry to lead its business travel department. BTN
lodging editor Julie Sickel spoke with Airbnb head of business travel David
Holyoke. The former president of Travel Leaders Corporate joined Airbnb in
BTN: What's the No.
1 item on your agenda?
Holyoke: We have
some work to do on the education front. What I really mean is that Airbnb is a
part of the managed travel ecosystem. We're going to have to address that first
through some good old consumer marketing to let the marketplace know. Then, what
we're doing on the sales front for engagement with travel managers and business
leaderships is to talk about how we can be working together. Airbnb has had
some good momentum over the last 18 months, but we've got a few more things to
BTN: What is the
company's approach to sales?
Holyoke: We have
a global sales team that continues to expand. We've got feet on the ground in
the Asia/Pacific area and EMEA and then obviously in North America. That team's
focus is to talk directly with travel managers and other business stakeholders
within organizations about how we can fit into a managed program. But this is a
two-way conversation. We've got a lot of things we're doing around content
marketing and the sales team's efforts to talk to business leadership that we
are a cost-effective option, but we're also asking how we can fit within their
policies and compliance and controls. Then there's a message to business
travelers in general about where the experience side of business travel has
gotten a lot tougher.
This is not about us versus hotels. Let's work with travel managers and procurement individuals to understand why their policies aren't working in particular areas and how our platform can help them."
BTN: How are you
addressing lingering safety and security concerns among corporates?
starts with education. We've talked with travel managers where there have been
objections or concerns, really giving them insight into our trust and safety
group, hundreds of individuals whose mission is to ensure the safety and well-being
of both guests and hosts. That's everything from data protection, credit card
fraud, all the way up to a rare incident that could occur. We give insight into
that world and the steps that we take for verification processes, the secure
messaging that happens between hosts and guests to get [travel managers] that
level of comfort.
BTN: Is that
trust and safety group serving the corporate space specifically or the entire
Holyoke: It's the
entire organization, but obviously we have champions and advocates that are
dedicated to business travel and are engaged in conversations with travel
managers and with our sales team.
BTN: What other
ways are you addressing concerns?
recognize that we're an open platform and there are a variety of options and
choices out there. Where we are going to differ from a hotel: an open platform
versus a non-open platform. We try to drive all of our conversations around [what
Airbnb calls] Business Travel Ready listings because that sets a standard
around amenities and quality. We also talk about our Superhosts, people who are
regular users on that platform who have a high commitment to quality. If folks
want to talk a little bit more about limiting Airbnb use to certain markets on
a pilot or a limited rollout, we work through those issues, as well, as long as
it's with the intent of progressing to a fuller rollout.
We recognize that we're new in the managed travel space. There
are a lot of travel managers and companies trying to understand how the sharing
economy fits into their program, so we're not trying to come into this space
and say, "Hey, you have to use us for everything." The initial
conversation is, "Where are some paint points or some opportunities?"
and then how do we move that forward from a promotion standpoint? And for us a
promotion can be a very limited, targeted pilot. It can be driven by a market.
It can be driven by certain departments. We make sure there are strong KPIs on
both sides for how we track success. But we've certainly done pilots in markets
and will continue to show that flexibility to the corporate space.
BTN: What kind of
industries or companies do you work with most often?
Holyoke: We have
150,000 companies that are booking with Airbnb for Business over dozens of
countries. Typically, a majority of business travel spend is in the 15 largest
markets that business travel exists in. That's not unique to us; that's just
where you see 80 some odd percent of spend consolidated. But I wouldn't say
there's one industry that dominates. Where we see Airbnb working within
organizations is where there are specific use cases. More than three nights is
where we're probably focusing; five-plus nights is a heavy percentage. In that
regard, it can be project-based work, it can be group work, it can be road
warriors who travel to the same city consistently, it can be related to certain
types of travel, whether for relocations, new hires, interns, groups and
BTN: So are any
industries or companies difficult to work with?
wouldn't say there are barriers to companies. We have 14,000 companies each
week signing up with us. We tripled in growth last year, and our forecast is to
quadruple in growth this year. We're trying to drive our conversations with
companies where we can complement their programs today. This is not about us
versus hotels. Where companies are getting compliance at a 70 to 80 percent
level, I talked to the team internally here about focusing on going after that
20 to 30 percent: Where is there leakage? Let's work with travel managers and
procurement individuals to understand why their policies aren't working in
those particular areas and how our platform can help them accomplish that. Usually
there are very specific use cases for why that program isn't working on that 20
to 30 percent, and we try to dig deep to understand that. We're trying to bring
that into the program and provide that visibility. Those are the things that
we've done in terms of our own dashboard and our own reporting and the
integration we're doing with large TMCs to be able to share that data.
BTN: Where do
those TMC partnerships stand?
Holyoke: The ones
that we've announced we've gotten through the integration work. We're live in
some areas and in pilots with others and working jointly among those TMCs,
ourselves and mutual customers to bring them in and make sure we've got all the
data and integration work flowing properly. Now it's just about getting the
sales and account management groups to work together to find further
BTN: What are you
focused on in the middle- to long term?
Holyoke: There are some things we can do on the small to
midsize front to accelerate things; we want to build further awareness and
education. Then with enterprises, we want to dive deeper in terms of what we're
going to build out to address the compliance and control issues. We're aligning
our strategy and our marketing efforts around those two standpoints and then
working to expand our footprint in main-driver markets around the world. That's
where we're putting a lot of emphasis in the next 12 to 18 months. Then we'll
probably look at the internal resources we need, both people and processes and
technologies and where the platform needs to be in those specific countries.
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