Airbnb Inc. is showing China some love. The US home-sharing giant is adopting the name “Aibiying” in China, one that translates as “welcome each other with love,” as it doubles investment in the country and triples its local workforce to serve the world’s largest population of travelers.
The startup intends to ramp up its Chinese business after more than doubling listings in the country to about 80,000 in 2016, Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky said. This year, it plans to offer customers in Shanghai its fledgling Airbnb Trips service — a menu of options that can include concert tickets and restaurant reservations.
It’ll begin to market “Experiences,” a feature that from Wednesday will let visitors to the eastern Chinese city book local-led excursions — including going behind the scenes of a traditional folk opera and learning about dough figurines.
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“There’s a whole new generation of Chinese travelers who want to see the world in a different way,” Chesky told a news briefing in Shanghai. “We hope that Aibiying and our Trips product inspires them to want to travel in a way that opens doors to new people, communities and neighborhoods across the world.”
Airbnb, last valued at more than $30 billion, is accelerating its drive into Asia after recently turning profitable for the first time, according to people close to the company. Since its start in 2008, the company has raised more than $3 billion to pursue its goal of becoming a full-service travel company and expand its business around the world.
While Airbnb’s established in Asian markets such as Japan, it’s made slower gains in China. The country is dominated by local rivals almost two years after Chesky told Bloomberg News he was “ getting really serious” about getting in. Still, it’s a market of 300 million millennials starting to explore solo travel that co-founder Joe Gebbia has described as “on fire.” On Wednesday, Chesky said Airbnb’s total Chinese guests jumped 146 percent in 2016.
“They don’t want tour buses. They don’t want tour packages. They don’t want tourist areas. Instead they want local experiences,” Gebbia said in an interview last week. “It couldn’t be more exciting to think about this wave of Chinese millennials that are starting to earn incomes now.”
Airbnb has taken its time building relationships with Chinese movers and shakers — it still hasn’t named a local CEO. A 2014 partnership with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. made it easy for Chinese users to pay for Airbnb rentals with Alipay, the local equivalent of PayPal. A tie-up with Tencent Holdings Ltd. got Airbnb built into WeChat, by far China’s dominant messaging app. Last year, Airbnb teamed up with the governments of four major cities, including Shanghai and tech hub Shenzhen, for tourism promotions.
Hooking up with the government could help the startup head off the sorts of clashes that have taken place with local officials from New York and Barcelona to its own home-town of San Francisco.
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But any move within China pits Airbnb against local leader Tujia, which lists more than 450,000 homes and is constantly adding more. Its backers include Ctrip.com International Ltd. — the world’s second largest online travel agency — and HomeAway Inc. Tujia’s edge stems in part from its understanding of the needs of Chinese travelers: it provides services from property management and inspections of listings to cleanups after guests leave.
Airbnb however has the advantage of being able to offer more extensive global accommodation to a growing wave of international vacationers. The company estimates outbound travel from China grew 142 percent last year, and that it’s served more than 5.3 million of the country’s globe-trotters. China remains crucial to fulfilling Airbnb’s goal of connecting people around the world, Chesky added.
“That must start with the biggest country on earth, right here,” he said.