TIANJIN — The sharing economy has huge potential in China, where the younger generation are ready to embrace new ways of doing business and living, senior management of Airbnb believe.
“We’ve seen positive signs of a developing sharing economy in China both from the consumers and the government,” Varsha Rao, head of global operations for Airbnb, told Xinhua during the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2016, or Summer Davos, in Tianjin.
Airbnb, considered a pioneer in the sharing economy with its model based on short-term rentals of private homes, launched in China in 2012, and more than 2 million Chinese have since used the service to travel abroad.
Rao said China has become Airbnb’s fastest-growing market for outbound travel, surging by 500 percent year on year in 2015.
Chinese Millennials are more adventurous and looking for a different kind of travel than their parents. They want to experience more authentic local culture instead of just ticking off tourist spots on a package tour, according to Rao.
“We call them travelers, not tourists, as the former try to meet local people and experience life there instead of just seeing sights,” she said.
Chinese travelers seeking overseas trips have been and will continue to be the focus of Airbnb’s service targeting China, she said, citing data showing that China is the world’s largest outbound tourism market.
Airbnb is now working with Chinese social media platforms in a localized marketing campaign.
“Chinese consumers are very sophisticated now, so we must keep localizing and improving our services,” Rao said.
The potential for the sharing economy in China is huge, Airbnb believes. Rao pointed to a Nielsen report showing that 94 percent of young Chinese are interested in sharing, almost double the rate in North America.
There is also government support, as Premier Li Keqiang stressed developing the sharing economy in the government work report this year.
Premier Li reiterated the government’s position while addressing the opening of the Summer Davos on June 27. He said the sharing economy offers everyone a chance to participate and benefit, which will contribute to a fairer distribution of income and a stronger middle class.
Rao practices what she preaches and has stayed in Airbnb homes while in Beijing and Shanghai. She was particularly impressed by one Beijing host who took her to a noodle shop and helped her practice Mandarin.
If Airbnb hosts are to continue offering such a warm welcome, the company will need to overcome regulatory challenges that have gnawed at it and other sharing economy leaders like Uber.
Rao said Airbnb is open to appropriate regulation in partnership with regulators and consumers.
“Building trust is the core of our business model innovation, which is enabled by a real and verifiable identity, insurance guarantee and 24/7 customer service,” she said.
“Trust is the foundation of the sharing economy and it’s driven by technology.”