Two major online services, lodging specialist Airbnb Inc. and taxicab service Uber Technologies Inc., are taking aim at the business traveller with new user-friendly products designed to attract more corporate clients.
This week Airbnb and Uber, both based in San Francisco, struck partnerships with Concur Technologies Inc., a company that specializes in travel and expense software that is used by many business travellers.
Airbnb is hoping the partnership will help it connect business travellers with available rooms in homes. Nearly 10 per cent of its users are business travellers, the company said. “We’ve heard from customers that this type of offering is high on their wish list,” Chip Conley, Airbnb’s global head of hospitality wrote in a statement. “We’ve now made it easier for people to make the most of their business travel.”
It’s a pitch mirrored by Uber, which teamed with Concur on Tuesday to roll out Uber for Business, an add-on to the app-based cab ordering service that the company claims will make business travel easier for companies and their employees.
“Business travel is one of those areas where we haven’t seen a dramatic shift in technology,” said Jigish Avalani, Concur’s senior vice-president for platform services.
The software simplifies hectic travel for users, Mr. Avalani added. The Uber product offers users an option to invoice trips to their company account instantly and without a receipt. The pitch from Uber: Worry-free transportation for the business traveller.
The focus on technology solutions for customer service is part of a broader trend in what’s referred to as the “sharing economy” which Mr. Avalani refers to as the “consumerization of IT” to serve end users in industries such as travel.
“It’s the desire for the individual to want to be able to consume in a fashion that really makes it easier for them as travellers.”
Ian Black, the general manager of Uber Toronto, said invoicing is a process that demanded attention, “We identified this as a pain point,” Mr. Black said Tuesday.
According to Mr. Black, taxi chits are outdated. “This is one step towards solving that issue,” he said, adding that the old-school chits lack transparency and don’t provide companies the metrics they need to analyze usage.
In Toronto, Uber piloted Uber for Business with 10 companies, ranging from a small business with 10 employees to a major law firm with hundreds of employees.
Mr. Black said that since Tuesday’s announcement, 10 more companies have reached out to Uber to sign up for the service.
Uber has enjoyed incredible growth since its founding in 2009. While the company is privately held, the worldwide cab service company has been doubling in value every six months. In June, Wellington Management and Fidelity Investments led a $1.2-billion (U.S.) financing that valued the company at $17-billion.
The entrance into new markets by companies such as Airbnb and Uber threatens to disrupt more traditional business models.
But Kristine Hubbard, the operations manager for Toronto’s Beck Taxi, argues that existing companies offer their own competitive advantages.
“When it comes to going after business customers, there’s a lot that they’re looking for in terms of that personal touch,” says Ms. Hubbard, who has been with the family company for more than 20 years.
Despite new entrants to the marketplace like Uber and Hailo Inc., which offers a similar service, Ms. Hubbard says Beck dispatched eight million orders in 2013, 6.7 per cent more than in 2012.
She adds that the company has changed with technology as the industry has evolved, pointing to their mobile app, which she says gets 3,000 orders a day.
“We’re always changing too,” she says.
“We‘re going to keep competing and we’re growing non-stop.”