Airbnb is doubling down on China’s rapidly-growing travel sector with a new name, an expansion of its trips service and more aid for Mandarin speakers.
Its new name in Chinese is “Aibiying” (爱彼迎) the company announced Wednesday, which translates as “welcome each other with love.”
Airbnb has had listings in China since at least 2013, but the San Francisco company’s focus has been on outbound travelers coming from China. Now it is investing to increase travel within China by both Chinese and international tourists as well as expanding offerings for the increasing numbers of Chinese seeking to explore the world. China’s travel and tourism sector is expected to grow by 7% each year for the next ten years. By 2026 it will underpin around 10% of the total Chinese economy and almost 100 million jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Airbnb also faces home-grown competition as well. Existing short-term rental sites in the country include Xiaozhu and Tujia. The San Francisco-based company already has 80,000 listings within China, which have been visited by almost 1.6 million guests, according to the company.
“Airbnb is smart to pursue expansion in China because as its middle class grows and as both rail and air travel make intercity access easier and more affordable, more people will want to travel and be able to travel,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group, a San Francisco-based travel industry research company.
Airbnb plans to triple the number of people it has working in China and add round-the-clock access to customer support in Mandarin Chinese. It will also launch its Trips service in Shanghai. This allows hosts and others to offer individual and small group outings to experience an area or activity for visitors that they normally wouldn’t have access to. It’s working with cities to help visitors pick neighborhoods of interest to stay in.
This is the latest in a series of steps Airbnb has taken to master China’s market. In 2014 it created a partnership with Alibaba so Airbnb users could pay with Alipay, the ubiquitous online payment system used by 450 million Chinese. Alibaba also cut a deal with Tencent to have it built into WeChat, which is estimated to have 700 million active users mainly inside China but also throughout Asia.
Airbnb has also moved to storing its Chinese data in China to comply with new digital security laws that will go into effect there in the summer. Chinese travelers offer an increasingly important market for Airbnb outside of China. Already more than 5.3 million Chinese have stayed at Airbnb listings worldwide, the company said.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Chinese tourists spent $215 billion in 2015. In addition, the make-up of the Chinese traveling public going overseas looks different today than it once did, said Harteveldt. In the past, Chinese tourists took packaged tours because they were cheaper, they included Chinese-speaking guides and they tended to offer access to hotels and restaurants that catered to Chinese tastes.
That’s changing rapidly.
“The younger generation doesn’t want to be herded in groups. They’re more comfortable communicating in English and interacting with other cultures and just like younger travelers in the West, they want to have more authentic experiences,” said Harteveldt.