Airbnb founder sets his sights on China

Airbnb: We are eager to pay taxes
Airbnb: We are eager to pay taxes   

Riding on its phenomenal success in the U.S., home-leasing website Airbnb is gearing up for expansion in Asia and the one market that it sees huge potential is China.

"The future of travel is really about China... with its potential in outbound travel and tourism spending," Airbnb's chief technology officer and co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China. "We're working to customize our product for this market."

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The San Francisco-based portal which enables members to rent out their homes to tourists is keen to leverage on the mainland's booming internet industry.

"There are native payment systems in China such as Alipay that we will incorporate into our product. There are also social networks where we want to allow users to link and transfer their reputation and authentication from their Weibo or Wechat into Airbnb. These are what we've been working on," said Blecharczyk who co-founded the rental website with two friends in 2008.

Alipay is the online payment service offered by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, while Sina's Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. WeChat is the wildly popular instant messaging service owned by internet behemoth Tencent.

The Airbnb Inc. logo on display.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Airbnb Inc. logo on display.

Boasting of over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries, Airbnb's home-sharing concept is still relatively new in Asia. Only one-tenth of its property listings are located in Asian cities like South Korea, Japan and Singapore.

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Seen as a disruptor to traditional business of providing accommodations, Airbnb, which is estimated to be worth $10 billion, has seen its fair share of controversy. This week, Los Angeles authorities called on the hosts listed on the website to pay the same taxes levied on hotels. In New York, the private firm had to make the controversial move of turning over information of 107 users to the attorney general's office last week. The city's housing regulations prohibit short-term rentals of apartments for less than 29 days.

"We're very eager to pay taxes but the regulations are city-by-city basis and we are currently in about 35,000 different cities. That's a lot of cities to have conversations with," said Blecharczyk. "We are very eager to have these conversations but when you get down to the specifics, these take time."

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"It (Airbnb) is a very new phenomenon [which] many people are learning about it just for the first time. [Unfair tax advantage] isn't our competitive advantage... what's unique about Airbnb is the fact that you can stay in someone else's home and what that gives you is a more local and more personal experience," the Harvard graduate added.