After being a relatively passive player in China’s tourism market over the last few years, Airbnb is now doubling down on its plan to expand in China with a series of announcements, including a new brand name that will be used in China. Starting this week, Airbnb China is now known as 爱彼迎 (“Aibiying”) and marks the start of a renewed focus on the Chinese market. In addition to the new Chinese brand name, Airbnb also intensified marketing efforts, new investments in China, Chinese localization, as well as partnerships with Chinese cities.
Last week, Jing Travel reported on how Airbnb is becoming more Chinese to compete in the increasingly contested Chinese 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 in late 2016. With a growing list of Chinese partners, investors, and an ambitious plan to expand its Chinese operations, the stage was set for a more aggressive push by Airbnb into China.
Just a week later, Airbnb did not only announce a more focused push into the Chinese market but also a fully-Chinese brand name that it will use to lure Chinese travelers to its products and services.
In a press release announcing the company’s new brand name in China, Airbnb also emphasized the importance of Chinese millennials, which it identified as a core market segment for Airbnb. According to a study conducted by Gfk and commissioned by Airbnb, 93 percent of Chinese millennials consider traveling an important part of their self-identity, with 94 percent of millennial respondents saying that they want unique travel experiences. The aspirations of Chinese millennial travelers and Airbnb’s recent push into travel experiences with “Airbnb Experiences” makes it a suitable market for Airbnb to target in China. According to Airbnb, 80 percent of their Chinese user base consist of people under the age of 35—the highest proportion across all the markets it operates in.
“There’s a whole new generation of Chinese travelers who want to see the world in a different way. We hope that Aibiying and our Trips product strikes a chord with them and 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,” Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb said in a press statement.
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 percent in 2017, 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 an engineering center, and that it intends to grow the number of Chinese engineers it employs by 2018.
As a next step in its Chinese localization efforts—which have included 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 Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chongqing, and Guangzhou “to help them maximize the benefits of home sharing.” At present, the company has shared no details on what the partnership with Chinese cities would entail, but it goes hand-in-hand with the idea that Airbnb must cozy up to local authorities to avoid suffering the same fate as Uber China, which was acquired by its local rival last year after an expensive and ultimately unsuccessful stint in the market.
While Airbnb’s new focus on the Chinese market addresses some of the concerns about its future in the market, other aspects where it is trailing its domestic rivals remain. Tujia, the biggest of Airbnb’s Chinese competitors, puts a lot of emphasis on how it helps property owners rent out their houses and apartments without any direct involvement—which it accomplishes through partnering with Chinese property management companies. Even if Airbnb is successful 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.