Airbnb in July announced the launch of a new global product suite for businesses. This attempt to take on more of the business-travel market comes as no surprise, considering other major sharing-economy players have already begun targeting corporate consumers.
For example, Uber just surpassed taxis as the most common method of ground transportation for business travelers, according to a recent report.
Airbnb’s new focus on corporate consumers signifies that the sharing economy is maturing and will become commonplace in business travel. But the recent popularity of these sharing services has encouraged employees to book their own travel arrangements — something that may prove costly for companies with underdeveloped or even nonexistent travel policies to guide employees’ decisions.
Many startups approach business travel in an ad hoc way, where things are left to the last minute or up to the discretion of employees who may not have travel-planning experience.
Data shows that every year, domestic travel costs companies almost $112 billion, and employees spend about $949 on various travel expenses. With all of that money at stake, it makes a lot of sense to give your employees the tools to make smarter travel decisions.
Without a fleshed-out travel policy, you may lose valuable time and money when employees try to find the cheapest rates but don’t consider logistics. For example, if the cheapest option on Airbnb is across town from the meeting site, the employee will spend valuable time commuting and actually increase expenses for ground travel.
When booking air travel, if three people arrange flights to a conference through different carriers, arrival times may not align. So instead of sharing an Uber ride from the airport to the hotel, the company will have to pay for three different rides.
Lacking a travel policy can also lead to missing out on rewards for the company if employees book their own trips and aren’t aware of the company’s travel rewards membership.
Finally, it can lead to wasting resources on expense reporting. Employees spend time filling out expense reports on company time, and the accounting department spends time and resources cutting reimbursement checks.
Here are five hacks for preparing a travel policy for your startup — specifically designed to avoid those pitfalls:
1. Use templates to get started.
There are plenty of free travel-policy templates available online (such as this one) that can be used as a reference to begin crafting your own policy.
2. Designate a trusted travel manager.
If you don’t have the budget for a full-time assistant or the bandwidth on your team to designate someone as your travel planner, check out freelancing websites such as Upwork to find a virtual assistant who can help with your planning on demand and at an affordable rate.
3. Do your homework.
Hotel chains are consistent but can be expensive (sometimes with extra costs for Wi-Fi and meals). Airbnb can be more affordable but less reliable (spotty Wi-Fi). Extended-stay hotels tend to offer great value at lower rates than traditional hotel chains — and often include more amenities. Research all available options to determine what works best for your business.
4. Streamline the process.
Booking flights, rental cars and accommodations through different carriers can save money, but it can also create administrative headaches. Travel apps such as Concur are useful to automate expense tracking.
5. Get the most for your money.
Take advantage of travel rewards programs to offset your business travel costs. From company-level frequent-flier programs to hotel-loyalty programs, these points can add up quickly when your employees are traveling frequently.
Once you have a solid travel policy in place for your startup, you’ll reduce expenses and increase efficiency, and your team will thank you for making corporate travel — which is stressful enough — a smoother process.