MANILA, Philippines – With over over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities in 192 countries all over the world, home and apartment rental site Airbnb is definitely making it easier for travelers on a budget to find a place to stay.
But not only does Airbnb provide cost-friendly alternative lodging in cities around the globe, the company also strives to promote these cities and the hospitality of its people.
“When we set up our [Southeast Asia] office, it’s really much more about people getting here, it’s about showcasing Southeast Asia and Philippine hospitality to the rest of the world,” Jia Jih Chai, head of Airbnb’s Southeast Asia and India operations, said in an interview on ANC’s “Inside Business.”
Chai explained that renting out at a home, a bedroom, or an apartment unit in a foreign city allows travelers to have a unique experience they won’t find when staying at a hotel..
“It gives a real flavor of what the place actually is. It’s one thing to be in a city and say, ‘
“Everything is great, this is Manila,’ but actually staying in an apartment you’ll feel how it is to part of Manila,” he said.
The opportunity offers the hosts, on the other hand, a chance to showcase their “personal touch” of hospitality, while earning from the rental.
At last week’s World Economic Forum on East Asia, Chai said that most of the hosts in Asia “go the extra mile” to give tourists a pleasurable experinece.
“My last two stays in Manila, the last host actually baked me dinner cookies, had a handwritten note that said, ‘Welcome to the Philippines,’” Chai shared.
He likewise added that for the World Economic Forum, he – as well as some of the forum’s participants – chose to use the Airbnb service instead of booking at the prominent hotel in which the forum was held.
Chai pointed out, however, that the service isn’t mainstream, and possibly caters more to the “creative class” on a visit to a city for the experience rather than business purposes.
“Most businessmen on travel have very specific needs, like checking in at a certain time and so on. There’s a class of business people who will use Airbnb, particularly around the creative class—freelance photographers and writers, the creative people who can be everywhere around the world. They draw inspiration when they travel on Airbnb,” he said.
Although Airbnb has been criticized for disrupting the traditional lodging industry, Chai believes that Airbnb and other services like it target a different market. He noted that hotel occupancy rates “are high as ever,” and clarified that “the segment that we target is quite different [from hotels].”
Chai highlighted the trend among more and more Asian travelers for “independent traveling,” which means booking a trip without organized tours or travel agencies.
“That’s the trend that are seeing right now and we are benefiting from that because people are saying, ‘Hey, we don’t need to sign up and have a fixed time, I can just do my own travel, book a budget airline, and use Airbnb or other apps to find places to stay,” he said.
The company forecasts a 200 percent to 300 percent yearly growth in number of Airbnb travelers in the Philippines, according to Chai.