By Nancy Branka
Safety is a primary concern for most female business travelers, but it factors into travel decisions of both sexes. So, as I recently made my first-ever reservation on Airbnb.com for a business trip, I stopped and wondered, “Is this smart?”
New “sharing economy” travel suppliers such as Airbnb, Uber or Lyft can be exciting options for travelers– for their uniqueness, convenience and cost savings. But are the benefits of these services offset by safety risks?
I booked an Airbnb condo in Los Angeles because all the convention hotels near my conference were sold out—except one property 10 miles away . The thought of a 10-mile slog in LA traffic was unbearable. Through Airbnb, I booked a one-bedroom condo in a brand-new building that is literally across the street from the convention center. Like most business travelers, cost was not my primary motivation, but it made me smile to be saving $84 a night. Hip décor and free use of the building’s gym and pool didn’t hurt either.
Safety became top-of-mind when I began to set up my Airbnb profile. An elaborate system of matching your identity (including photo) with your public profiles (e.g. LinkedIn or Facebook) is in place. Hosts are also checked in this manner and a verified review system is a reality check to ensure they are reputable and dependable. I read these reviews carefully and chatted via text with the owner before making my decision. For women with safety concerns, I would highly recommend paying attention to reviews and getting to know the host pre-trip. My stay is at the end of this month, so I’m curious about how safe I will feel there. Yet, right now I couldn’t be happier with the booking experience.
Ground transportation is another realm of the sharing economy where safety may be in question for women travelers. We even questioned whether or not Uber is legal on a recent TravelSkills post. Last month Uber was in the news when a woman was allegedly kidnapped by an Uber driver. Turns out charges were not filed—it was not clear that an assault had occurred, and the driver may well have been trying to help the intoxicated passenger who could not remember her address.
Uber now operates in 35 countries and 100 cities. According to its website, drivers (for both ride-sharing and livery services) receive a three-step criminal background check that goes as far back as the law allows (seven years). After hiring, drivers’ records are checked on an ongoing basis. Uber also posits that not needing to hail a car is a safety benefit—you can stay in a safe spot until your car arrives. And you have a record of the driver’s name and vehicle information before you get in the car. A rating system means drivers are held accountable and are—theoretically—always working to do better and improve their ratings. (Uber offers detailed information about driver screening here.)
Lyft, another car-sharing service operating in 60 U.S. cities, has similar safety measures for passengers according to its website. Rideshare-startup Sidecar, also with these safety measures, operates in six U.S. cities.
Ride-sharing companies have been in the news as recently as last week, when they were given cease-and-desist orders in Pittsburgh. Municipalities and states continue to threaten these sharing economy services, usually under the mantle of public safety. However, because they threaten traditional and highly regulated taxi and chauffeur industries, the issue is also laden with political and tax revenue–related repercussions.
While it always pays to be particularly careful when traveling, I don’t see any reason to think these sharing services are less safe than the traditional. In my own travel planning, I will keep an eye on the news as regulations and companies evolve, but until I see proof that my safety is at risk, I will continue to use them.
Do you think sharing economy services like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are risky? Why? Leave your insights and experiences in the comments!
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