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Behind Airbnb’s Challenges in China and the Rest of Asia

Jul 10, 2014 8:30 am

Skift Take

Airbnb has already seen good pickup in South Korea and Hong Kong, but China is a whole different challenge.

— Jason Clampet

Free Report: The State of Student Travel


After emerging as one of the hottest startups in the U.S., Airbnb is out to challenge international markets in China and the rest of Asia.

Airbnb enables people to rent out their homes to tourists and visitors. And despite having phenomenal success in the U.S. and most of the Western world, doing well in China is a different ballgame since the company’s usual tactics require adjustment, said Airbnb product manager of growth Gustaf Alstromer onstage at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2014 event this morning.

Asia is also at the center of a lot of conversations companies are having around growth, and especially on mobile.

“This is a market that’s very strategic for us,” Alstromer said. “On the product side, we’ve had to do a lot of changes and adaptation for that market.”

Alstromer explained that a lot of logistics of China’s and Asia’s digital world are just not the same. For example, the Google Play store is nigh inaccessible in China, so Airbnb (and whoever else wants to have a Chinese presence) need to make sure its apps are available in other Android app stores such as Tencent’s.

The landscape’s even different when it comes to social media and search. Facebook and Twitter have no presence in China, so Airbnb has to use that nation’s social channels. Even linking to Facebook and Twitter has bad repercussions, as it actually hurts a website’s indexing in China’s search engines, according to Alstromer.

And what about the possible China-based clones?

Alstromer surprisingly admitted such Chinese companies are at least just as good, if not better, than Airbnb.

But Airbnb’s strategy to go up against that is to be everywhere Chinese people would want to travel, which is something it’s much more capable of providing than a cloned startup.

Overall, Alstromer said that going to China was the best way that he and his team learned about how to approach Airbnb’s entry into its market.

“There’s an excitement and need for the service [in China]. … It would be a big mistake to ignore China,” he said.

Interestingly, Airbnb was recently fined by the Catalonian government for permitting listings of properties in Barcelona not fit for tourist renting according to local laws. Looking into local laws in China and Asia is hopefully on the company’s to-do list.

This article originally appeared on VentureBeat.

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