Airbnb to pull out of China as ongoing zero-Covid policy places severe restrictions on domestic and international travel, focus on Chinese outbound business
Nathan Blecharczyk, the company’s co-founder and China chair, told hosts all domestic travel and experience listings would be removed by the end of July due to “pandemic challenges“.
He said in an open letter on the company’s WeChat account that Airbnb China would “consolidate” and focus on “the outbound tourism business”.
Airbnb has registered about 25 million stays in China since launching on the mainland in 2016. Bookings there have accounted for about 1 percent of the company’s overall revenue, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
In 2017, as it pushed to be more competitive in the country, Airbnb rebranded in China as Aibiying (爱彼迎), meaning to welcome one another with love.
It faces stiff competition from domestic operators such as market leader Tujia and Xiaozhu.
Airbnb also held talks to acquire Xiaozhu in 2016, but the deal did not go through.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic Chinese tourists spent far more on international travel than those from any other country, according to the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, spending $255 billion (£203bn) in 2019 compared to $135bn for those from the US.
Chinese travellers going abroad tripled in less than a decade, reaching 155 million journeys in 2019, the agency said.
But strict limits have been in place for cross-border travellers since the pandemic began, with people entering the country required to quarantine in special hotels for up to four weeks.
Authorities have placed restrictions on obtaining or renewing passports and said this month they would “strictly limit” travel outside the country, amidst ongoing lockdowns.
The domestic operation for foreigners visiting China was also complicated and expensive to run even before the pandemic, according to a person familiar with the decision.
The legal requirement for Airbnb to send travellers’ information to the Chinese authorities was controversial for the American company.
Airbnb held the biggest US public offering of 2020 amidst a turnaround that has seen it cut costs and bring in more of its revenues from longer-term bookings.