Originally published on December 8, 2017.
Airbnb’s global rise was rapid and has been widely successful. That is, until it entered the Chinese market.
Trying to win over its new consumer base, earlier this year Airbnb China rebranded with a Chinese name: “Aibiying” or 爱彼迎. The Chinese name translates to “welcome each other with love” which is meant to reflect Airbnb’s business mission of bringing all people together.
Chinese people, however, don’t like it.
The name is difficult to pronounce in Mandarin because the combination of the three Chinese characters is not commonly used when speaking Chinese. And if read quickly, the words would mesh together to translate and mean something completely different. Because of the pronunciation difficulty, many Chinese suspect that the new name was provided by a Chinese learner and not a native speaker.
After the official announcement, Airbnb’s most popular feedback from Chinese consumers on social media was: “You need a Chinese-language consultant.”
In its quest to successfully enter the Chinese market by rebranding, Airbnb instead highlighted its lack of Chinese involvement- something that does not bode well with the local Chinese consumer base. This misstep (along with others) has further emphasized the pre-existing lack of trust on Western companies.
Since 2014, the company has struggled to make progress in the Chinese market. And although the Chinese consider the home as a place for privacy- not a place to welcome (foreign) strangers with open arms- the culture alone is not to blame for Airbnb’s struggle.
This is clear with the popularity of another rental platform company called TuJia. The Beijing based company, which has 430,000 listings (whereas Airbnb only has 80,000), has gotten around the issue of trust by simply educating itself. For instance, to override the fact that most Chinese homes don’t have spare bedrooms, Tujia sought out people with second homes located in tourist destinations and whose main interest is to maintain and witness a property value increase.
In an interview with Skift, Melissa Yang, co-founder of Tujia and current chief technology officer, further expanded on the differences between Tujia and Airbnb. For one, Tujia lists the landlord’s number on the property listing so that interested Chinese tenants can quickly and directly speak with the homeowner- the first step in establishing a relationship of trust. Moreover, the company contracts services like housekeeping, property inspections, and utilities to ease the minds of the homeowners.
“We’ve built our business model to optimize it for both… Chinese travelers and home owners. We provide not only the online platform but also provide some helpful services for them.” Yang said.
By providing a far more hands-on approach than Airbnb, Tujia has successfully minimized almost all anxiety that comes from renting to and from a stranger. And by learning and accommodating to the local Chinese market, Tujia has become a worthy opponent- leaving Airbnb to reevaluate its current model. If it wants win in China, Airbnb has to do more than just adopting a new name.
Read more posts by Cindy Ramirez