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As the sharing economy has gained traction among business
travelers, many corporate travel policies no longer ban such services. Still,
many companies have not set solid policies around them, instead adopting a
look-the-other-way approach. Runzheimer product manager and business travel
consultant Austin Klein spoke with BTN
transportation editor Michael B. Baker.
BTN: What should
companies consider when setting policies around the sharing economy?
Klein: Uber, Lyft
and Airbnb are all the cool things to do, and travelers are trying to save
money and do things more flexibly. The challenge that organizations face is: How
do you get a policy around the sharing economy while still allowing flexibility
but also still maintaining some type of control as it relates to the
duty-of-care type of things, being able to know where your travelers are. Are
they making good decisions? Are they staying in safe places where they're
traveling? There's the inherent liability of the organizations when they've got
their employees traveling for business. They have some level of responsibility
for safety and security of those employees. There's a balance between allowing
them to book Airbnb or use an Uber versus saying, "No you can't do that;
we have to know where you are, and you have to follow these channels."
When you position it more like a dictator saying you can't do this or that,
they're going to try harder to do what they want and go around it. There has to
be some level of meeting in the middle that will make sense for them.
BTN: So how does
that translate into a solid policy plank?
options that could be available: When you request your Uber, you can see what
the driver rating is. So maybe for the policy, you can't take an Uber with
anyone having less than a 4.5-star rating. With Airbnb or vacation rental by
owner, using those standard rating scales can at least make sure you're staying
at qualified properties to some extent. The challenge is: I can have a policy requiring
an Uber to have a 4.5-star rating, but if I'm late for a meeting, I can't sit
and cycle through drivers, and the company's not going to find out about it
until after I've taken the ride and submitted the expense report with a receipt
that might show the rating of the driver on it. Then what happens? Is it a slap
on the hand? Being able to quantify and measure in a reasonable way is the
biggest challenge. It's not putting parameters in that policy; it's how you are
going to measure against that policy.
When you position it more like a dictator saying you can't do this or that, [travelers] are going to try harder to do what they want and go around it."
BTN: How do companies
Klein: A lot of
it is going to end up depending on how they want to change behavior. Within the
expense reports, [it could be] not reimbursing them for an Uber ride or if
they're on a corporate card, making the employee liable if they don't comply.
In terms of technology or something that's pre-actual transaction, I don't know
of anything specifically that's out there that addresses that. On Airbnb,
you're booking that in advance; if you get some kind of confirmation, think of
it like an online booking tool. Uber and Lyft—that's going to be another
challenge because that's a point-of-purchase transaction. It's hard to figure
out how I can push some kind of compliance policy level down to my traveler
that is not going to impede them from getting from Point A to Point B in their
specific time frame.
BTN: As sharing
economy suppliers develop services specific to corporate travelers, should travel
buyers work with them to incorporate tools that allow compliance policies?
Klein: That's one
of the easier ways to do it. Otherwise, it's going to be a third-party
application or something outside of where they're booking to invoke policy or
some sort of filtering [so] you know the [search] results you're providing [to
the traveler] are compliant within the policy.
BTN: How do
buyers with global programs stay on top of the various regulations and
restrictions related to the sharing economy?
Klein: If you're using an Uber or Airbnb, they're
already in business in these different countries with different laws. For them
to be operating, the hope is they understand the nuances of the laws at that
point in that specific location. I would rely upon them to help educate me as a
company developing that policy. What's the best practice? What's compliant with
the laws and being able to utilize their tools or booking functions to help
mange that for me? Versus me as a corporation having to come up with some other
technology to be able to manage that.
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