Managing the Risk of Shared Accommodation – Ignoring it Won’t Make it Go Away
By: Joe Gleason
“I found a great place to stay on [fill in name of big shared accommodation platform] – it’s in a great part of town, private and way cheaper than that big hotel we usually use.” Does this sound familiar?
The thought of business travelers using shared accommodation – AirBnB, Homeaway, etc. – invariably sends shivers down the spine of many global security directors and not without reason given the many reports of incidents at lodging the world over. Left to their own devices, I suspect many security professionals would forbid the use of these resources for business travel. But the reality in many – dare I say most – organizations is that AirBnB and similar accommodation sharing platforms are already part of global travel resources. So, how should these resources fit into travel risk management?
First, a note about terminology: In this post, I’ll refer to “shared accommodation”, but that’s really a misnomer since best practice (as outlined below) is to not share any accommodation space booked through these platforms, or at least not with people outside your organization. I’m using the phrase because it’s the generally used language (though let me know if there’s a better term).
When asked if their travelers use AirBnB, etc., most attendees at an OSAC Travel Security conference last summer raised their hands; a much smaller number, however, kept them in the air when asked which organizations had policies to address shared accommodation. One of the most important steps in managing this risk is establishing and communicating a clear and realistic policy regarding use of shared accommodation. Ignoring the use of these resources and the need for a policy won’t make the issue go away and could lead to increased organizational risk/claims of negligence should there be an incident.
An important first step is to define under what conditions the use of accommodation share is permitted. A risk-based approach is most effective, starting with security assistance provider risk ratings for the city then adding organizational risk factors and assessment. Inevitably, there will be some risk environments where shared accommodation isn’t appropriate. Beyond that, some Items to consider:
- Traveler profile is important in assessing risk for accommodation share; in some locations certain profiles may be more vulnerable (female, LGBT, national, racial or ethnic groups, etc.) to targeted risk based on local environment. While these risks may be present more widely in a country, hotels typically have more formal structures in place to mitigate the risks (staff training, policies and procedures, etc.).
- Local language skills, along with cultural and geographic knowledge, may be essential to enable the independence and autonomy that comes with staying in a residential community.
- Life and business support infrastructure may be limited at a shared accommodation location: depending on the local environment, factors could include reliability of power (Is there a generator?), consistent and secure internet, printing/copying, access to safe water and food, etc.
Based on the conversation at the OSAC travel security event last year, community best practice around the use of shared accommodation resources includes:
- Understanding possible limitations of physical security measures and supplementing where possible – smoke/co2 detectors, personal alarms, door stops, lights, etc.
- Developing minimum standards/criteria for accommodation share locations/features such as:
- Full apartment or house only – i.e. no other non-organizational guests in the location
- Highest rated/reviewed locations only
- Locations with a certain amount of time on platform (year+ only)
- Specific geographic areas within city, based on location specific risk factors
- Certain floors (if in multi-story location) or only buildings with 24/7 access control
- Emphasizing the importance of incident and near-miss reporting with shared economy/accommodation resources – crucial for understanding risk and avoiding re-occurrence.
- Identifying the location of shared accommodations in use and evaluating the need for increased communication/check-in with travelers using these resources. Assistance provider travel tracking apps may be a useful resource to provide enhanced awareness.
And, while accommodation share may be an option for business travelers, it should be just that – an option, not a requirement. Many business travelers will still prefer the support and amenities that come with hotels or more established commercial accommodation – from more consistently applied standards around safety and security to onsite restaurants, 24/7 concierge, gym, etc. For global travelers, these aren’t just nice to haves – in many cases, these factors provide the foundation for a safe and secure business trip.
As with many elements of global risk management, each organization will need to evaluate how to approach the challenges and opportunities of shared accommodation as a business travel resource based on their risk exposures and tolerances. But, wherever you may come down on the use of these resources, it’s essential to have a realistic policy that provides a framework for use of shared accommodation.