Airbnb will rebrand its short-term home rental service in China as “Aibiying” and triple the size of its workforce in the country as it tries to woo a large but complex market for foreign tech companies.
Aibiying translates as ‘welcome each other with love,’ which is the kind of reception that Airbnb may require to compete with local platforms such as Tujia and Xiaozhu.
A number of tech companies targeting the Chinese market have had to make adjustments to their traditional business models, including by setting up joint ventures with local partners to gain market access.
Qualcomm said last year it was setting up a server chipset design and sales unit with the investment arm of the Guizhou provincial government. Hewlett Packard Enterprise sold a majority stake in its server, technology services and storage business in China to a Tsinghua Holdings subsidiary to boost sales of HPE's enterprise products in the country, while Intel said in 2014 it was planning to invest in local chip companies for the design of mobile phone chips.
Ride-hailing company Uber decided the best way in China was to cooperate rather than compete with a large local player Didi Chuxing. It said in August that it had struck a deal with Didi Chuxing, which would acquire all assets of Uber China, including its brand, business operations and data. Didi Chuxing would also acquire a minority equity interest in Uber.
In 2015, two investors - China Broadband Capital (CBC) and Sequoia China - were brought in by Airbnb to help it continue to navigate the Chinese market and create a localized presence for the company. That plan is being continued now with a brand name that locals can relate to, and which sounds similar to its global brand.
The company, which recently received a fresh infusion of US$1 billion of funds, also announced the expansion of its Trips and Experiences service in China, which tries to go beyond the usual tourist experience by offering app users access to a list of interesting activities such as local handicrafts and cuisine. It also said it was increasing the number of engineers at its engineering center in the country, which is the only one outside the U.S.
Airbnb has also worked on the integration of local payment methods such as Alipay and sign up options such as WeChat, besides providing 24 X 7 customer support in Mandarin. It has also sought partnerships with cities, having signed memoranda of understanding with Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chongqing and Guangzhou.
Airbnb has about 80,000 listings in China and has seen nearly 1.6 million guest arrivals at these listings. The company has more than 3 million listings in more than 190 countries around the world. The company had so far focused largely on outbound Chinese tourists.