After being a relatively passive player in China’s tourism market during the last few years, Airbnb is now doubling down on its plan to expand in China, including a new brand name in the country. Airbnb China will now be known as 爱彼迎 (“Aibiying”) marking the start of a renewed focus on the Chinese market. Airbnb is also boosting its marketing efforts, increasing investment, and entering into partnerships with Chinese cities.
Last week, Jing Travel reported that Airbnb is becoming more Chinese to compete in the home-rental market. The report drew on the recent investment in Airbnb by state-owned sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation, which added to the ranks of major Chinese and Hong Kong investments in the company, as well as the incorporation of Airbnb China late last year. With a growing list of Chinese partners, investors, and an ambitious plan to expand operations, the stage is set for a more aggressive push into China.
In a press release announcing the company’s new brand name in China, Airbnb emphasized the importance of Chinese millennials, which it identified as a core market segment. A study by global market research firm Gfk and commissioned by Airbnb shows that 93% of Chinese millennials consider travel to be an important part of their identity, with 94% of respondents saying they want unique travel experiences. The desires of Chinese millennial travelers and Airbnb’s recent push into travel with “Airbnb Experiences” makes it a suitable market to target. Airbnb says 80% of its Chinese user base consists of people under the age of 35 — the highest proportion across all its markets.
“There’s a whole new generation of Chinese travelers who want to see the world in a different way,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a press statement. “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. I’m really excited about our future here.”
In addition to its new branding and active courtship of Chinese millennial travelers, Airbnb also announced that it would grow the staff at its Chinese offices by 300% this year, as well as double its current investment in the Chinese market. The company also emphasized that China is the only place outside the United States where it has a digital-engineering center, and that by 2018 it intends to hire more Chinese engineers.
As a next step in its China campaign — which includes the integration of Chinese mobile payments as well as in-app reservations on WeChat — Airbnb says that it will focus on “rethinking the core booking experience” in order to better cater to its Chinese users.
Much like its Chinese competitors, Airbnb also announced that it is partnering with cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chongqing, and Guangzhou “to help them maximize the benefits of home sharing.” The company has shared no details of the partnership. But it clearly suggests that Airbnb must cozy up to local authorities to avoid suffering the same fate as Uber China, which was bought out by its domestic rival last year after an expensive and ultimately unsuccessful trial.
While Airbnb’s new focus on the Chinese market addresses some of the concerns about its future in China, the company is trailing its domestic rivals in other ways. Tujia, the biggest of Airbnb’s Chinese competitors, helps property owners rent their houses and apartments without direct involvement by partnering with Chinese property-management companies. Even if Airbnb succeeds in capturing the lust for unique travel experiences among Chinese millennials, it also needs to prove to Chinese property owners that it can provide an easy way to manage and monetize underutilized real estate.
This article was originally published on Jing Travel.