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Airbnb goes back to its roots, pushes corporate travel

Airbnb wants in on corporate travel

When Eric Caruthers recently attended an annual conference with ten of his colleagues in upstate New York, they weren't each issued a hotel key card like he would have expected.

Instead, they rented a large house on Airbnb. Caruthers, who works as a business unit coordinator for Simple Global in Delaware, said the experience staying in a house doubled as a company retreat.

"Waking up and cooking breakfast together and setting up office in the dining room for a work day were just a few of the things we did that we would not have been able to do in a hotel," Caruthers told CNBC.

Prior to this trip, he had previously only used the platform for leisure travel.

"Most of the places we find and book are ridiculously nice and extremely cost efficient," he said.

Caruthers is part of a growing number of people considering Airbnb when booking business travel.

Airbnb is aggressively tapping into the business travel market and recently integrated with major management systems, such as American Express Global Business Travel and BCD Travel.

According to the company, business travel on its site has grown by three times since last July.

While most users of Airbnb currently use the platform for vacations, the company's recent push into corporate business travel is a move back to its roots, when its founders started the company for conference attendees in San Francisco opting for a cheaper alternative to pricey hotels.

"Business travelers want convenience, where they can get good Wi-Fi, an ironing board and hair dryer ... things you accept in traditional accommodations," Julian Persaud, Airbnb's Regional Director of APAC told CNBC.

Some of its listings are now specified as business-travel ready, which requires hosts don't have pets and don't allow smoking.

Alexander Spatari | Getty Images

The company says savings earned by renting a home over traditional hotels range between 20 to 30 percent.

Airbnb said its now seeing 14,000 new companies sign up each week for its business travel services and the home-sharing giant is already being used on business trips by the likes Google and Morgan Stanley.

The shift is being driven, especially by younger employees. "Particularly, millennial employees have higher expectations of how they spend their time and wanting to move away from traditional methods," Persaud said. "They're the ones knocking on the doors of their boss, saying, 'hey we want to do this.' "

Currently, the average Airbnb traveler stays in a property for six days on average, which means a trip will be extended into a weekend, offering the guest time to explore a local neighborhood on their personal time.

Combining business and leisure travel, or "bleisure" travel, is being closely watched by the travel industry.

According to a 2014 report by BridgeStreet Global Hospitality, 60 percent of travelers reported having taken a "bleisure" trip, adding a day or two to their existing business trip.

That could be good news for Airbnb, as its listings tend to naturally lend themselves to more localised experiences.

But not everyone is likely to immediately warm to the idea of renting a home during a work-related trip.

Whether elite business travelers who often prefer loyalty to earn points that can be used for personal use, will warm up to renting homes, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the average duration for a business trip on Airbnb is considerably higher than the average business trip duration of three days, according to a study by Travel Leaders Corporate.

As Airbnb's business grows its units, the company now valued at $30 billion, still wrestles with regulatory challenges as cities debate how to handle short-term rentals.

While the company says it provides a positive economic impact, particularly to travelers who stay in local neighborhoods, critics argue that transient guests are unwanted in some buildings or neighborhoods and extra income some hosts are earning is ultimately driving up the cost of real estate.