So much has been written – both pro and con – about the sharing and/or collaborative economy, but the undeniable truth of it all is that it is already here and not going away. The multi-generational workforce transition to the "millennials," combined with the new relevance of internet portability and social media relationships, will ensure that this sharing economy will continue to thrive and mature.
The main worry seems to be regulatory uncertainties. Should room-renters be subject to regulatory hotel room taxes, or should they be subject to the lighter regulations by which bed and breakfast establishments abide? Should Uber drivers have the same screening processes, registration and insurance coverages that taxi and "black cab" service drivers are subject to, or should there be a separate regulatory commission for them?
As the sharing/collaborative economy matures, I fully expect these regulatory issues and challenges to get resolved – but for all of the incumbents who are trying to block their entry and competition into their respective areas of commerce, unfortunately that horse has already left the barn. And for those who have taken the "wait and see" or denial approach, hoping that these disruptors will give up and go away, that's not going to happen anytime soon.
While there are various estimates for market capitalisation overall, Uber recently was valued at more than $18bn, and various reports place Airbnb's value at $10bn. Now that the industry has changed the way we look at supply and demand, the question remains: How long will the various countries in the EU and EMEA try to isolate themselves from the sharing economy?
In EMEA, several countries and municipalities have blocked Uber and Airbnb from setting up their sharing economy businesses. But frankly, the pressure from local citizen users will eventually push the bureaucrats into allowing them to enter the marketplace (whether it's fully or in limited operations). Sometimes there can be benefits for the regulators – like in Amsterdam, where officials are using Airbnb listings to track down unlicensed hotels.
So how is this impacting our industry? For one, travel buyers and meeting planners will have to address the sharing economy in their programmes and policies. Denial and hoping that the sharing economy suppliers and practices will go away is not going to address developing policy compliance and duty of care issues and challenges. If they haven't already, senior corporate executives will be looking to their expert travel buyers and meeting planners for recommendations on how the sharing economy suppliers and processes are going to be introduced into corporate travel programmes, as well as meetings and event planning.
Travel managers, planners and suppliers all need to understand the implications of sharing resources in the sharing economy, and draft policies around engaging or refraining from participation. All buyers must re-assess their insurance coverages as new types of policies emerge. And if the sharing economy represents opportunities rather than threats, travel buyers and planners should try to benefit from this collaboration.
The reality is, travel buyers and meeting planners need to do their research and due diligence, and come up with policy and process modifications that give truly clear guidelines and processes for their travellers and meeting attendees to follow – whilst conducting business on behalf of their companies. It is far better to get in front of the sharing economy – and all of its future implications – than to wait and see happens.