Airbnb is leaving China. Hosts can list their properties on as many other platforms as they want, but there is no easy decision.
Photo by Cai Xingzhuo
By XIE Yixin
WANG Zhan was one of the first Airbnb hosts in China. The owner of Yanxian Boutique Home Stay managing over 70 properties in two cities was caught off guard when Airbnb said it was leaving China. All listings will be taken down by the end of this month.
About a third of Yanxian’s revenue came through Airbnb, it is hard to part with thousands of five-star reviews Wang worked so hard to get. Airbnb will work with Meituan, Tujia and Xiaozhu to help hosts move their data, including reviews. But for the hosts, it is more than mere data.
Meituan has most customers, but hosts need to offer frequent discounts. A business license is required to list on Ctrip and Feizhu. Xiaozhu is small and encourages personal touches. Airbnb hosts can’t and don’t operate like faceless hotel chains.
“We put up about a dozen of rooms on Ctrip. So far I’m not thrilled about its customer service. It likes big hotels better than us,” said Junzhu, whose company has 250 listings on Airbnb. Some of them were already on Meituan before Airbnb shut them down, but she still wants to shop around. She is annoyed that many platforms don't allow her to transfer Airbnb booking records and guest reviews or make mistakes when doing it. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is whether a platform can bring in enough guests.
Mengmengmao, another host, decided to close up shop altogether. “I do very poorly with guests on other platforms. They only care about prices and expect me to run my home like a hotel. I don’t like the fees and commissions either,” she said. On Airbnb, past guests rave about her baking, her cat, and the quaint little shops and restaurants in her neighborhood. She plans to move out of her current apartment and find a roommate to split the rent.
Meituan, Tujia and Xiaozhu, the three platforms that Airbnb partners with on its exit, are likely to win the most former Airbnb hosts. Meituan told Jiemian News that it onboards about ten thousand Airbnb listings every day, and it has special in-app functions and a designated customer service team to help hosts with their transitions. “We actually allow them to merge cross-platform data all into Meituan,” a spokesperson said. She also mentioned a thoroughly-tested review system, various fancy-sounding digital operations tools, and a carefully moderated host forum that help hosts run their properties.
Tujia claims that 90 percent of “highly-rated Airbnb listings” have moved to its own platform and that close to 90 percent of the new listings get reservations within a week after moving.
A spokesperson from Xiaozhu said it already has 70 of Airbnb China’s Top 100 list. To distinguish itself from larger competitors, Xiaozhu is focused on listings with thoughtful touches and has offered special deals for Airbnb super hosts (hosts with high ratings and few cancellations) and Plus homes (high-end properties). The spokesperson conceded that the competition for high-quality stock is intense and that hosts have the right to be picky. “It’s a mutual selection,” he said.
Many hosts describe their Airbnb guests as young and educated who value experience at least as much as price. The clientele is different on the new platforms, they fear, and so will be their own business models. “I will have to change from catering to a niche group to, literally, selling to everyone,” host Arfu said. He doesn't know what he wants to do yet, but will probably rewrite his property descriptions and adjust prices.
Platforms expect changes too. “Airbnb does a great job in forging communities, and it has the most caring and thoughtful hosts. Tujia is excited to have them on board,” a Tujia spokesperson said.
Others wonder whether Airbnb’s success could and should be replicated in China. It is common for hosts overseas to rent out spare rooms - most hosts in China are property managers. Around 90 percent of bookings on Airbnb were from boutique hotels in tourist destinations.