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26 Aug 2014

Why the Sharing Economy and Business Travel Should Be Mutually Exclusive

Thinking about a night in a nice Airbnb? Think again...

We had the privilege of sitting in on a fascinating talk by Tony Ridley from Intelligent Traveller last week at the ACTE Education event in Auckland. Tony is arguably the Australasian, if not global leader in travel risk management, so he knows what he’s talking about. At the core of Tony’s presentation was a simple point: The Health and Safety rules that apply in the workplace also apply to travellers when they’re off site traveling around the world. It sounds obvious, but the implications are huge, and the consequences for directors and company officers of not following due process are … criminal. Over simplifying things somewhat, this means is that organizations have a legal obligation to put robust travel policies in place that ensure that employees don’t expose themselves to unacceptable levels of risk while away from the office on business. 

With this new understanding, it’s interesting to take a look at the role of the sharing economy and the meteoric rise of companies like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft which have quite literally dominated the travel headlines over the last three or four months. Both Uber and Airplus have stated their intentions to target the corporate traveller, which is interesting on the one hand, but deeply problematic for corporate decision makers on the other….For corporations, the financial benefits that come from exploiting the sharing economy are potentially significant, so it’s tempting for managers to jump on the bandwagon and advocate their use. And employees won't need asking twice, as the Uber experience, particularly with integration in the cloud that allows receipts to flow effortlessly into online expense management systems, is so good that business travellers find it almost irresistible. I know I do….

The problem of course is Risk (with a capital R). With a robust set of policies about health and safety around the office governing everything from water temperature in the toilets to trip hazards by the printer there is absolutely no way that any manager should be condoning the use of services like Airbnb or Uber because its impossible for them to understand the Health and Safety Risk and adequately ensure the safety of the employee. To make that point concrete, if you approve a business trip and the employee has an accident in an Uber, or trips over the resident cat in his chosen Airbnb and falls down the stairs and dies, the government may hold you criminally responsible. Scary.

So, while AirBnb and Uber may be actively marketing to the business community, the business community really should be actively ignoring the broadcast. Whether they do or not remains to be seen. But in the mean time, you’ll find me in the Hilton….

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