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Airbnb’s China chief quits after four months on job, delivering setback to company’s growth plan

Ge Hong is leaving to take up another unnamed role, just as home-sharing giant promises a major push for business in the mainland

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 October, 2017, 7:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 10:04am

The head of Airbnb in China is leaving the business after just four months in the post in what appears to be a major setback for the world’s largest home-sharing site’s plans to expand in the market it considers of “fundamental importance”.

It confirmed on Tuesday that global vice-president and head of China Ge Hong is leaving the company to take up another unnamed role.

Kum Hong Siew, its regional director for Asia Pacific, will take over from Ge as it searches for a permanent successor, it said in a statement.

Ge, who previously worked for Google and Facebook, was unable to be reached for comment by press time.

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

Appointed only in June after what was a lengthy search process, he was hailed as a key figure in the company’s strengthened effort to crack the massive Chinese market, where many Western internet giants – including US ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies – have crashed and burned, losing out to smaller but more aggressive domestic players.

Now considered the world’s fifth largest private tech company by valuation, Airbnb is already facing brutal competition from the local rival sites such as Tujia and Xiaozhu, and a nascent home-sharing market that hasn’t officially gained regulatory approval from the Chinese authorities, despite the government encouraging the overall development of a sharing economy to spur new economic growth.

This month the Chinese authorities banned bookings on all short-term rental platforms in central Beijing during the 19th congress, as it tightened security surrounding the high-profile political event.

In an upbeat interview with South China Morning Post in September, Ge said Airbnb’s winning formula in China was to expand in start-up style rather than simply developing it into a China division of a multinational, suggesting part of the reason he was picked for the post was he is Beijing born-and-bred.

Airbnb picks China head to compete with local rivals, but is it too late?

He said then the company was ready to invest “as much as it needed” in China to focus on both inbound and outbound travel, with the country considered as holding “fundamental importance” to its global expansion plans.

Last week, Airbnb announced co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk as chairman of Airbnb China to improve communication between the country and its headquarters in San Francisco.

Earlier this year, the home-sharing firm also gave 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 much research, it said.

It claims to have 120,000 mainland listings, among its four million flats available globally.