World’s largest home-sharing site ramping up its efforts in tough market where some Western tech firms have crashed and burned, including Uber

US company claims to have 120,000 Chinese listings, a significant boost from 80,000 in March, each with an occupation rate of ‘double-digit’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 10:54pm

Airbnb is ramping up its commitment to China, including a plan to triple its local workforce to 300 by 2018, making it the “go-to” home-sharing website for Chinese millennials, not only for overseas travel but also for domestic trips.

The world’s fourth largest start-up by valuation said it is ready to invest “as much as it needed” in China to focus on both inbound and outbound travel as the country is not just an important market but has “ fundamental importance”.

“Global vice-president and China chief Ge Hong, said: “We started our business in China by leveraging the advantage of our global network. But we are not just going to focus on rich Chinese millennials who travel abroad.

“We want to be there for young Chinese wherever they go, in China or abroad,” Ge said in an interview with the South China Morning Post, adding Chinese travellers’ orders on Airbnb for domestic trips almost equal orders for overseas travel.

Beijing born-and-bred, Ge previously worked for Facebook and Google, and was appointed in June as the very first China head of Airbnb, as part of the US home-sharing giant’s effort to take on already brutal local competition, from firms including Tujia and Xiaozhu.

China has proved a graveyard for many ambitious Western tech giants, including ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies, which retreated from the mainland in 2016 after heavily investing billions of dollars to fend off local competition.

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“We are very different from Uber,” said Ge.

“We don’t want to use discount and promotion to gain traffic. The customers you get through discounts are not going to be loyal customers. We’d rather have 100 people love Airbnb than having 10,000 people know us,” he said.

China is the one of the fastest growing market for Airbnb, which has four million listed flats on its global network.

Although that overall number of Airbnb’s listing in China lags behind its local competitors, Ge said it is focusing on active listings and active bookings, because those are the metrics that can bring true value to customers.

According to Ge, Airbnb China’s listings have reached 120,000, a significant boost from 80,000 in March and each has an occupation rate of “double-digit”.

The home-sharing firm has given itself a Chinese name, Aibiying – loosely translated into “welcome each other with love”, which is easier to pronounce for Mandarin speakers – to endear itself to Chinese customers, after researching the market for years.

Some critics claim Airbnb could have already lost the battle against local players after being too slow to get going in the market, but Ge said he is confident the company is set to enjoy rapid growth, as more Chinese customers now have a better understanding of what they do, and what quality they can offer.

He added the company is aggressively expanding its local engineering and maintenance team in China, for instance, claiming to be the only such team outside the United States, Airbnb’s home turf, and is in the process of building its first local call centre, to help with better its response to Chinese customer demands.