$US31 billion hospitality company Airbnb is redoubling its push into China, a market where fellow Silicon Valley titan Uber and many a tech company have very visibly stumbled.
Airbnb plans to announce Wednesday that it’s rebranding its Chinese subsidiary as “Aibiying,” which means “welcome each other with love.” Airbnb says that, alongside the rebranding, it’s doubling its capital investment in Aibiying, as well as tripling its 60-person workforce in the country.
Airbnb did not comment on the size of the investment it’s making in Aibiying.
Airbnb, which lets users rent rooms and homes from each other, is no stranger to China: The service has been active in the country for some years, and China already hosts Airbnb’s only engineering center outside of San Francisco. Still, the launch of Aibiying signals a readiness to take China more seriously as it expands past its California roots.
The expansion into China is both a huge opportunity for the company, and a huge risk. Many technology companies have tried to expand into the country, but faced fierce competition from favoured local rivals. In the same way that Uber saw its ambitions in China thwarted by Didi (and spent over $US1 billion in the fight), Airbnb will be up against Chinese company Tujia.com, a direct competitor that’s also raised a lot of cash and is valued at over $US1 billion by its backers. It’s also facing Xiaozhu, a Chinese rental service that Airbnb was rumoured to be acquiring in December 2015. Airbnb declined to comment on any rumours.
Airbnb, though, is pinning its hopes on the slow and deliberate steps it’s taken to expand into China, versus the more aggressive tactics Uber used to gain market share.
The company first started talking about its plans to court Chinese travellers in 2014 when it added Alipay as a payment option. Since then, Airbnb has been working over the last two years to open offices across China and build relationships with local governments, while simultaneously wooing Chinese travellers leaving the country to try Airbnb throughout the world. Already, the number of outbound Chinese travellers staying in Airbnbs globally grew 142% in 2016, the company said.
Now, some of the focus will turn to making homesharing popular, even within China. Airbnb already has 80,000 listings in China on its platform, despite little marketing spend, and its new brand in China will only seek to grow that number.
“There’s a whole new generation of Chinese travellers who want to see the world in a different way,” said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in a press release. “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 neighbourhoods across the world.”
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