Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jul 31, 2015

Tujia co-founder: We're not the 'Airbnb of China'

HONG KONG - Speaking at yesterday's Converge tech conference, Melissa Yang, co-founder and CTO of Beijing-based holiday rental site Tujia, explained why her well-funded startup should not be seen as a clone of Airbnb.

Tujia co-founder: We're not the 'Airbnb of China'

Yang spoke in a Converge conference session hosted by the Asia technology editor of Wall Street Journal, Yun-Hee Kim.

Tujia, meaning ‘home while on a journey’ in Chinese, has 300,000 property listings in China and other countries and is worth more than US$1 billion according to venture firms, the WSJ reported.

Yang said this is a small portion of the possible 50 million rentable properties that exist due to reasons like people owning second or third homes or people moving overseas without selling their properties.

"Even if we manage to monetise just 5 million of that 50 million, that number of listings is more than Airbnb, who currently boast about 1.5 million listings worldwide," Yang told Campaign Asia-Pacific offstage at the event.

The Chinese home-rental firm, which is often described as an equivalent of Airbnb, actually tends to focus more on high-end properties rather than bargain accommodations, and also offers services Airbnb does not, such as inspection and cleaning of properties.

The company did not consider the Airbnb model that much when it was founded in 2011, said Yang. In fact, it is Tujia's domestic competitors like Xiao Zhu ('Little pig') and Ma Yi ('Ant') which are clones, "following Airbnb totally", she pointed out. (The reason behind the penchant for naming such businesses after animals is unknown.)

Yang expanded on how her business is quite different from Airbnb. Firstly, Chinese travellers are not warm to the “do it yourself” (DIY) travelling style. "A western traveller may do favours like help the homeowner take out the trash when they leave the property, but the Chinese will not," she said. "They value service much more than Western travellers."

For this reason, Tujia only picks properties, such as villas in Thailand, that will match or fulfil the expectations of Chinese travellers, who usually travel in family groups and like their rentals to include kitchens. 

Secondly, there is a deficit of trust in China compared to the US and Europe. Renting your home to strangers or living in a stranger's home are not hard concepts to grasp but are difficult for some to accept, said Yang. "To overcome the trust issue, we inspect the properties beforehand to make sure the photos online are authentic," she said.

Thirdly, Airbnb's China entry strategy so far, apart from a partnership with Qyer last year, has been to focus on the outbound market of Chinese travellers, a market of 100 million expected to grow 30 per cent this year. Tujia, by contrast, covers both domestic and overseas travellers. Some of the underlying reasons for Airbnb's strategy are structural: Android users in China cannot access the Google Play store to download the Airbnb app, as it is blocked by the Chinese firewall, for example.

Airbnb lists more than 1,000 properties available in China.

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