Airbnb is trying to do what Uber couldn't: win China

When the pandemic first hit one of the world's most valuable start-ups saw its private value nearly halved. Now as hotels suffer but vacation rentals boom, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky is reportedly planning to file for a long-awaited IPO.
Mike Segar | Reuters

"Welcome each other with love" — "Aibiying" — is a new message Airbnb hopes Chinese consumers are ready to hear.

The home-sharing service announced plans Wednesday to change its brand to "Aibiying" in China, and said it will introduce its Trips platform, which helps visitors find interesting experiences, in Shanghai.

More than 80 percent of Airbnb's users in China are under 35, a greater percentage than in any other country, the company said in a press release.

But China is a tiny slice of the company's business today, with only 80,000 listings out of more than 3 million worldwide. In contrast, the leading Chinese home-sharing site, Tujia, has boasted more than 400,000 listings.

By doubling down on China, Airbnb is trying to succeed where another big U.S. consumer tech startup, Uber, recently struggled.

At one point, Uber was losing nearly $1 billion per year in China as it battled local competitor Didi Chuxing for a slice of the ride-sharing market. Uber finally agreed to sell its Chinese operations to Didi last year in a deal that valued the combined companies at $35 billion, removing one hurdle from Uber's chances at going public.

Just as Uber faced stiff competition from Didi, Airbnb now faces competition in China from the likes of Tujia and Mayi, which already have a leg up on understanding Chinese culture and regulatory issues.

Airbnb Chief Executive Brian Chesky said he hopes to partner with cities to help them maximize the benefits of home sharing and has signed MOU, or memorandums of understanding, agreements with the cities of Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chongqing and Guangzhou.

To better adapt to local culture, Airbnb is coordinating with Chinese payment method Alipay and social app WeChat to offer customer support to customers in Mandarin.