Shaping the future

To expand in China, Airbnb is eyeing Japan and its aging population

Key Points
  • Airbnb is aiming to boost its presence in Japan, in part to attract more Chinese travelers, Parin Mehta, director of the host and homes business at the home-sharing service, told CNBC.
  • Mehta said Airbnb can help Japan diversify its tourism base and broaden travelers' destinations.
  • Mehta said Airbnb can also help Japan's aging population and rural areas become economically active.
How Airbnb is evolving and trying to attract Chinese users

Airbnb is aiming to boost its presence in Japan as part of its push to expand its relatively small penetration among Chinese travelers, Parin Mehta, director of the host and homes business at the home-sharing service, told CNBC.

"There are a couple of big opportunities that I see in China. One is the domestic play which is very big and a lot of people are playing in that space," Mehta told CNBC on the sidelines of the Innovfest Unbound conference in Singapore.

"But I think the outbound opportunity is very exciting as well," he added. "We know that there are about 120 million to 140 million Chinese who will leave China to travel overseas. We know that one in three trips in APAC (Asia Pacific) on Airbnb ends up in Japan."

Currently, 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.

In March, Airbnb rebranded itself on the mainland as "Aibiying," which translates as "welcome each other with love" as part of its efforts to reach a wider audience in China.

The Chinese have shown enormous wanderlust in recent years.

Around 122 million Chinese travelled outside their home country in 2016, spending around $109.8 billion, according to official China Tourism Academy data.

Japanese data showed that around 6.37 million Chinese visited that country in 2016, up 27.6 percent. The Japan Times reported Chinese tourists spent around 1.48 trillion yen ($13.12 billion) in Japan in 2016.

That can be a juicy market for a home-sharing service.

"For us the real challenge and opportunity is to figure out what do these Chinese guests wan when they go overseas and how to provide that for them," Mehta said.

Airbnb app
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At the same time, Mehta was eyeing hosts in Japan.

"[There are} a lot of government plans around rural regeneration and how to get an aging population to be economically active and hosting really solves both those problems," he said.

"We want to enable this platform whereby hosts can continue to be economically active and monetize their biggest asset, which is often their home, and they can use this for their education, food, etc."

Mehta also noted that he hoped Airbnb could help grow Japan's tourism market.

"If people are going to Tokyo, they might traditionally just go to Shinjuku or Shibuya, but they could for instance, move out of Tokyo and go to places an hour away and really experience what it's like to like in a city," he said. "We want to help governments diversify some of their tourist base."

—Lauren Thomas contributed to this article.

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