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Airbnb feels 'unencumbered' and is growing strongly in China, its co-founder says

  • China is an important market for Airbnb, its co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk told CNBC
  • The country's growing middle class and young demographic mean more Chinese travelers are going abroad, according to Blecharczyk
  • He said Airbnb was feeling unencumbered and growing strongly in China

China's growing middle class and a young, travel-loving population present a massive growth opportunity for Airbnb, one of the company's co-founders told CNBC on Thursday.

Speaking at the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, Nathan Blecharczyk said the start-up is doing very well in the world's second-largest economy.

"China has been the fastest growing country for Airbnb domestically, out of all [of the] countries in which we operate, and second-fastest growing from an outbound travel perspective," he said, suggesting that there are more opportunities to grow in that market. Blecharczyk is also chairman of Airbnb's China operations and frequently spends his time in the country.

Broadly, the Asia Pacific region is very important to the the California-based company, according to Blecharczyk, and it is taking steps to solidify its presence there.

On Thursday, Airbnb announced it will invest $2 million through 2020 to support what the company called "innovative tourism projects" throughout the region.

Millennials and the middle class

The Chinese spend far more on international tourism than Americans, Blecharczyk said, adding that the trend is being "powered by a rising middle class, and especially a young demographic."

He pointed out there are about 400 million millennials in China today.

Airbnb faces local competition from Tujia, a start-up that reports say was valued at $1.5 billion in October, and Xiaozhu, which recently raised funds from Jack Ma-backed Yunfeng Capital. For its part, Airbnb's post-money valuation was $31 billion in March 2017, according to Crunchbase.

Blecharczyk said Airbnb's competitive advantage was that it could provide outbound Chinese travelers with a broad range of accommodation options in most countries to which they choose to travel.

Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and chief technology officer of Airbnb.
Sam Kang Li | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and chief technology officer of Airbnb.

Unlike many U.S. companies that team up with local players to tackle the large China market, it is still very early for Airbnb to follow that route, according to the co-founder. "There's so much potential — our company is growing at a record rate ... right now we're feeling unencumbered and growing strongly," he said.

When asked if dominating the China market was important before the company considered going public, Blecharczyk said Airbnb is "eager to demonstrate" its success there. But he said the key to being a successful public company is to "set the right expectations and be able to deliver."

"We've been around for 10 years, and we've demonstrated consistent solid growth and ubiquity across all the countries of the world," he said.

Blecharczyk declined to give any guidance when asked about when the company might be planning for an initial public offering.