For private accommodation listing site Airbnb, India is a priority market which holds a promising potential. In a chat with Tech
Circle, Airbnb’s country head Amanpreet Bajaj talks about the road ahead for Airbnb in India where its operations are still at a nascent stage, and why government policies related to the home-sharing space need to be revised. Edited excerpts:
Can you give an overview of Airbnb’s Indian operations?
With a population of over 1.25 billion, India holds immense potential for Airbnb given its heritage of hospitality, rich cultural diversity and the advent of the new-age traveller who is looking for local, unique and authentic experiences. Our listings in India have grown by 115% over the past year and now exceed 18,000. Our aim is to go farther and wider across the multitude of cultural experiences across neighbourhoods, towns and cities that are waiting to be explored. Half a million Indian guests have stayed at Airbnb accommodation globally since it began operations in 2008. Our host community is also diverse in India and we see growth from tier 2 cities along with metros.
How does India figure in the overall scheme of things for Airbnb? What are your expansion plans?
India is a priority market for Airbnb and we are already witnessing a lot of excitement and momentum here. Our goal is to understand the dynamics of the market and connect with the diversity of local culture in various parts of the country so that our Indian customers can enjoy all the benefits of using Airbnb. In fact, we have recently partnered with Thomas Cook India to offer unique stay experiences for outbound travellers from India. Under the partnership, Thomas Cook India will have access to Airbnb’s unique stay options which include apartments, private rooms, castles, boats, manors, tree houses and private islands across the world.
By 2020, the Indian travel market is poised to pass the $40 billion mark. Outbound travel from India has grown by over 185% in the last year. The opportunity is tremendous. In particular, we see a huge potential in meeting the demand from the 230 million urban millennials in India for a new and more exciting way to travel. Indians are actively serving as wonderful ambassadors for the country as they travel.
Indians seem to appreciate the value addition offered by hotels in terms of services. Is this posing you a challenge?
Travel is about local experiences and one cannot find unique stay experiences through a hotel. We strive to create unique experiences for our guests all across the world and we hope to continue this trend in India too. A great example of this is the floating bedroom at the Great Barrier Reef (off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia), created in partnership with Disney Pixar’s movie Finding Dory. For the first time, people got a chance to stay at the reef.
Airbnb is a natural fit for local people travelling abroad, but it’s also a great way for folks visiting India to experience the wonder of this great country. We hope to give more tourists and people in India the chance to discover, book and list unique accommodation.
How Indian consumers’ preference be shifted from hotels and resorts to private listed properties?
Already a lot of Indians are using the Airbnb platform when they travel abroad. Like other international travellers, they too are in search of adventure and unique experiences wherever they go. We also see growth in the domestic segment. We need to understand their specific requirements and offer relevant services. We are focused on educating people about the concept of Airbnb and benefits of home sharing.
Are you seeing any trend among Indians looking for accommodation?
India has a diverse traveller community. Over 39% of Indians prefer travelling as couples and 34% travel in groups. Therefore, most of them prefer apartments with a kitchen for accommodation. We are now focused on Indian consumers, understanding their behaviour and requirements.
How do you assess the travel and hospitality market in India?
India has traditionally been a small market but this has now changed. With the government’s push to create a digital economy, the market is dynamic and witnessing a lot of momentum. With increased internet penetration and travel and tourism taking off in a big way, it is the right time for us to focus on India. Though we are in the early days, we see a huge potential to grow.
Is the regulatory framework conducive for following the home-sharing model?
Airbnb has pioneered the model of home-sharing in 191 countries. Existing rules and policies that govern accommodation in India go back decades. Policies need to be modernised and governments are trying to figure out how to do this as we are in different jurisdictions. There is a thinking that new rules need to be created. We are excited with the Indian government’s positive thoughts towards the potential that home sharing offers.
Are you planning to tweak your business strategy to suit to Indian conditions?
In India, our goal is to make sure we understand the dynamics of the market and connect with the multiplicity of Indian culture in various parts of the country.
How are you planning to counter the challenge from the likes of Oyo, Treebo and FabHotels which offer services in addition to standardised budget accommodation?
We believe in connecting travellers with the surroundings and people they are visiting. Our latest brand campaign ‘Live There’ is based on the idea that people do not want standardised experiences that dull the senses and prevent them from seeing the world with a fresh perspective.
We have always believed that for us to win, no one has to lose. The travel and hospitality market is big enough for all kinds of players to co-exist. Our value proposition is unique, and if we can create the right kind of awareness around it, we can make great progress. Hospitality is a large, growing market and we believe that helping more people to travel is good news for everyone.
When do you expect your Indian operations to break even?
Being a private company, we choose to not disclose any financial information.
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