Airbnb expects India to be one of its top three markets in the long term

Chris Lehane
As the appetite for travel increases, Airbnb — the online marketplace for homestays and lodging spaces — expects India to be one of its top three markets in the long term, said a top executive. 

“Yes, we’re a US-founded company, but, you know, given our size and scope, and particularly how we think about India, it is going to be one of our top three markets in the long term. If you project over the next 10 years, there's no way you can be in any type of an economic space, particularly travel and tourism, and not make India among your top-tier markets. The world's going to be coming to India and India is going to be going to the world,” said Chris Lehane (pictured), senior vice-president of global policy and communications at Airbnb.

In the country to launch a partnership with a local NGO Princess Diya Kumari Foundation in Jaipur to promote local crafts and experiences, Lehane said Airbnb saw 70 per cent annual growth in domestic guests in India in 2018, higher than the global growth of 60 per cent. In the last two years, three million Airbnb users traveled to or from India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has time and again called for promotion of tourism in the country, and also urged citizens to open up their homes as homestays in remote areas that do not have infrastructure for tourists. In his Independence Day speech this year, he also said Indians should visit local destinations within the country. 

“So all these segments for us, which are basically Indians travelling abroad, Indians traveling within India or, foreigners coming to India and wanting to experience the culture, are growing our prospects. So today, we have almost 54,000 listings in almost 100 plus cities in India. So, it’s not only those three, four or five, tourist towns, but literally, it’s going deeper and deeper,” said Lehane. 

The San Francisco-based start-up, founded in 2008 by roommates based on the idea of renting out space within an existing house or living space, was last valued at $31 billion in September 2017.  The firm has said it plans to go public next year, and is currently considered one of the few start-ups with a sustainable business model. 

However, the recent debacle of shared-office rental space start-up WeWork, which was forced to delay its initial public offering (IPO) after potential investors questioned a $47 billion valuation, has put a question mark on the general enthusiasm around highly-valued start-ups. 

“I certainly can’t speak for other start-ups because I think everyone could speak for themselves. And, I also think that all these different companies really do fundamentally have different economic models. What I can say about the Airbnb model is that, we've been able to achieve the growth we’ve had because we really focused on the fundamentals,” Lehane said. 

In India, Airbnb has signed a host of agreements with state governments to promote local culture and encourage people to introduce travelers and tourists to their regions. 

Lehane said the regulatory environment in India was conducive to the travel and tourism sector. “We have a responsibility to work to make sure the platform is working as well as meeting the specific needs of a particular country and typically even down to a particular community level. And so, we’ve worked over the last couple years to put in place more than 500 regulatory partnerships around the world in big cities or urban markets, as well as in small towns of Maharashtra,” he added. 

On Tuesday, it announced a memorandum of understanding with the department of tourism  of Nagaland, as part of which it will work with local communities and promote prominent events like the Hornbill Festival.

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