APAC is the next big frontier for Airbnb, says Varsha Rao

“ If Airbnb will have its way, it will turn every house on the planet into a hotel.” It’s a popular perception doing the rounds in the marketplace often used by market observers though it is difficult to say whether it’s a genuine compliment or back handed one. But its no secret to anyone that in the sphere of alternative accommodation no other company globally has made more impact in the recent times than Airbnb. It has unlocked a humungous amount of lodging facilities across the globe working on a new and unique marketplace model wherein private houses have come on the stream. According to a Wikipedia account, the San Francisco headquartered company has over 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 cities across 190 countries. Its unprecedented growth across the planet has caught the attention of everyone and while on the one hand, many copycats of Airbnb have emerged in different parts of the world, its uninterrupted march is also believed to have a major cause of concern for hotel operators in the branded segment.

12123Nothing surprising, the session slotted for the presentation by Varsha Rao, Head of Global Operations, Airbnb at the recently held PhocusWright Conference in Delhi was eagerly awaited by over 300 participants. And though in her presentation, she did not dwell much on what the company has specifically planned for India, Rao underlined in no uncertain terms that Asia is emerging as the next big frontier for the global alternative accommodation major. “ We have been focusing on Asia-Pacific region for quite some time and we have encouraging trends emerging now. In terms of inventory, APAP has become our fastest growing region with 38 percent growth in the recent years. As per a recent study, 47 percent of hosts who are part of our network in the region have reported increased income. 76 percent of Airbnb listings are located outside traditional hotels districts. So we are adding new pockets for accommodation in the region,” Rao underlined.

Airbnb is credited to have built a commendable base in the North and South American markets. According to Varsha Rao, its success is well reflected in the fact that during the last edition of FIFA World Cup hosted by Brazil, one out of every five international visitor had stayed in Airbnb units which is reflective of how deeply embedded it has become in the accommodation eco-system of markets outside its parental turf. And this is a feat which Airbnb wants to repeat in Asia-Pacific. “ Our business model certainly will contribute to the growth in APAC tourism as well as in the local economies in the region,” she said. Airbnb is believed to have about 3,00,000 units enlisted in Asia-Pacific which were used by about 12 million visitors last year. The icing on the cake is: about 35 percent of the guests received by Airbnb units in Asia-Pacific last year had actually come from other parts of the world. Within the region, China is the fastest growing outbound market (300 percent) for the company while Japan tops the chart in the inbound category (350 percent). Within South-East Asia where Airbnb has about 10000 enlisting, India outbound too is emerging as a pillar of strength for the units in the region. “ Asia is embracing the shared economy principles more quickly than other markets which is helping in our growth. Equally important is the increasing penetration of internet and growing volume of smartphones with the growing prominence of handset manufacturers like Xiaomi and Micromax. 33 percent of our Asian bookings last year was made on mobile,” Rao informed.

Airbnb is not just a plain,vanilla alternative accommodation market place. To endear itself to new customers as well as host members, it has subtly introduced new tech empowered features. While it has its own robust app application, the user generated content and shared social connections too are strong features of its offerings and it has also been in the forefront of introducing private messaging system for its customers. To strengthen its position in Asia, the company has already tied up with WeChat, China’s most popular text and voice messaging platform. “ It has given us the added advantage to connect and engage with our customers in the region,” Rao pointed out.

According to Airbnb global operational head, the company is keen to build its base in the larger Asia Pacific region with a tailored approach. “ We understand that every community in the region is different. So our solutions offered to them too will be not similar,” emphasized she. On pointed out the criticality of safety and security issues of the guests which Airbnb units probably can’t ensure vis-à-vis branded chains, Rao was emphatic that Airbnb has derived its own mechanism. “ It is why we treat reviews as the foundation of our technological framework. We also ensure that we get the full information of our hosts. And there is 24×7 customer support system for our guests anywhere in the world,” she explained.

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