Airbnb’s Great Wall of China competition upsets Chinese social media users

Eight people will get to stay in a watchtower that has been converted into a candlelit bedroom

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 10:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 8:39am

Eight travellers will get the chance to stay overnight at the Great Wall of China next month if they win a competition, but internet users are concerned over possible damage to the 2,600-year old landmark.

Room-booking app Airbnb has temporarily converted an old watchtower at the Badaling section of the wall into a double bedroom, and said it will be the first time in history that ordinary people will be allowed to stay there.

The tourist attraction receives more than 10 million visitors a year. There are no laws banning people from staying overnight and some tour companies even offer camping packages.

The competition, which closes on Saturday, asks users from the company’s 11 biggest markets – China, the US, Britain, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain and France – to submit a short essay on why it is important to break down barriers between cultures.

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The four winners will be allotted one night’s stay between September 4 and 8, and are allowed to bring one guest each. The candlelit room will be open to the elements due to its lack of a roof, and will not have Wi-fi, heating, air-conditioning or a television.

The package also includes air travel to and from Beijing from the winners’ home countries, Chinese visa fees, as well as a meal, traditional entertainment and a conservation awareness talk.

Nathan Blecharczyk, chairman of Airbnb China, said on Thursday that the company wanted to collaborate with Beijing-based historians and historical conservation groups.

“We hope to gather the strengths of all parties to promote the cultural symbolism and far-reaching meaning of the Great Wall and bring it out to the world,” he said.

The idea for the competition was the result of a collaboration between Airbnb and state-owned Beijing Badaling Tourism Company, according to a cultural commission official quoted in a report by the Beijing Morning Post on Saturday.

Neither company responded to requests for comment.

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The Great Wall, considered one of the world’s greatest marvels of ancient architecture and a Unesco World Heritage Site, stretches about 21,000km (13,000 miles) from Liaoning province in China’s northeast to Gansu province in the northwest.

Laws requiring its protection and conservation date back to 2006, and strictly prohibit building facilities that are not for conservation.

Reactions to the promotion were mixed on social media, as people questioned whether renovating a historical monument for overnight stays was even legal.

“The Great Wall is a historical relic under protection, how can they let it be turned into a common guest house?!” posted one angry user.

“So now even ancient relics can be rented to guests for a profit?” said another.

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“Protecting historical and cultural relics was the original intention of our activity, and remains a primary consideration,” Airbnb China said on Thursday in response to a comment on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service.

“We will not move a single nail throughout the whole course of this scheme.”

However, some people were more supportive of the scheme.

“It’s not like anyone can stay there … the ones selected must have a high quality of character. Airbnb has come to China to promote Chinese culture, if they do it well we can support them,” a person wrote.

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More than 8.6 million Chinese tourists have used Airbnb and the company has about 150,000 room listings in China. However, it is facing stiff competition from local rivals such as Tujia and Xiaozhu, which have flourished in the absence of official government regulations surrounding the fast-growing sector.

Airbnb agreed at the end of March to provide travellers’ passport information to local authorities to comply with regulations that require all foreign visitors to China to register their accommodation details with the police.