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Airbnb India head: 'There is a new economy that can be based on people’s inclination to have new experiences'

Airbnb India partners with Jet

With the rise of a digital economy, digital travel sales in India are set to touch the $22.52bn mark in 2017, according to eMarketer.

According to Indian Ministry of Tourism, India registered an 11% year-on-year increase in foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) during 2016, with as many as 9 million tourists visiting the country, excluding visits by non-resident Indians.

This has facilitated growth of online marketplace and hospitality service like Airbnb in the Indian market.

Airbnb's CEO Brian Chesky believes that India will be one of the biggest world market in 10 years for Airbnb, as the company saw 185% increase in travellers from India and a 184% increase in bookings in India (in-bound).

Airbnb is democratizing tourism by bringing its economic benefits to communities that typically haven’t shared in these benefits in the past. With a model where hosts retain 97% of the listing price, and a global average of 42% of guest spending occurring within the neighborhoods where they stay, the economic impact of home sharing can be significant for off beat, or less frequented travel destinations.

Indian government is favouring the growth of home sharing and Airbnb has taken advantage of this. Airbnb aims to dominate the Indian market by tying up with Maharashtra government, Government of Gujarat and Government of Andhra Pradesh, to help boost local tourism. Airnb also announced first airline partnership in India with Jet Airways to add momentum to their Indian growth.

To know more about it, The Drum spoke with Amanpreet Bajaj, India country manager for Airbnb. He said: “In India, we have forged partnerships with business and community stakeholders as well as decision makers to empower the home sharing sector. Through our partnership with Government of Gujarat we drive awareness about the platform, we organized sessions and workshops for the local community to sensitize them on our global hosting standards for potential hosts."

"With the Department of Tourism, Government of Andhra Pradesh we help promote the state’s rich art, cultural and craft heritage to a global audience. Through this partnership, Airbnb is helping rural artisans engage in creating the flagship craft works of Andhra Pradesh, to list their accommodations and experiences on the Airbnb platform for domestic and international travelers visiting Andhra Pradesh.”

Airbnb also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) of India in a bid to promote tourism to quaint, rural locations in the country, and with Thomas Cook as well.

Airbnb is also working with the World Bank Group, on initiatives including a study on the development impacts of home sharing, and pilot projects in areas jointly identified as emerging tourist destinations.

Airbnb also ventured into entertainment by launching the ‘Ae Dil Lets Airbnb’ campaigning partnership with Bollywood film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil late in 2016.

As to how Airbnb plans to maintain its steady growth, Bajaj said: “Our marketing strategy in India is driven by understanding the spirit of the locals, who have gone on to become a part of their global community of travelers and hosts."

"India is characterized by its cultural multiplicity and the spirit of hospitality found in the concept of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ or ‘The Guest is next to God Himself.’ This spirit is inherent in homes across regions in the country, with hosts exhibiting an inclination to best serve their guests, and to introduce them to the nuances of local life. This is in line with the value that Airbnb espouses to enable people to feel like they can belong anywhere in the world, even if just for a night. This is what distinguishes India’s hosting culture, as we continue to form a strong community of hosts who are opening their hearts and homes to the world."

“Over time, we have continued to engage with the market in order to deepen our understanding of the cultural nuances and local dynamics. We have also encouraged the host community to come together and share best practices and hosting experiences with one another. Hosts form the core of our community, and we engage with them consistently for them to better understand hosting standards, and to share experiences with one another in order to better host their guests.”

He further emphasized about the ‘Live There’ campaign, which was born from a basic insight about what travelers seek when they embark upon their journeys. It was launched in India in June 2016 to offer Airbnb’s experiences to the evolving Indian traveler.

About further expansion plans, Bajaj said: “In March, 2017, we announced the launch of Trips in New Delhi, India, adding 15 bookable local experiences, in addition to the thousands of homes available to stay in. We believe there is a new economy that can be driven based on people’s inclination to have new experiences. The biggest asset in the world is not the things people own, it is their time and how they utilize it, especially when they travel, is of utmost importance. There is great potential when it comes to entertainment and experiences – It gives people the opportunity to be entrepreneurs and to contribute to the community.”

Whether Airbnb considers homegrown Oyo rooms as its direct competitor in the Indian market, Bajaj said: “We do not usually comment on competition but we believe that Airbnb is the only place where travelers and hosts can have a unique and dynamic experience across over 191 countries in a secure and comprehensive manner."

"We also feel that as travel habits and consumer demands evolve, businesses are constantly innovating to deliver to these demands. The travel space has immense potential for diversity and it is encouraging to see a shift in the domain, as people increasingly know what they want from their travel experiences."

The 'secure manner' is an important part of Airbnb's sell in countries like India. It also bought a background-check startup, Trooly, to better facilitate trust between strangers on, off and across the platform, supporting Airbnb’s overall strategy.

Bajaj's comments tie closely to the wider strategy for Airbnb, which included a recent review of its agency partnerships. The company decided to refresh its partnerships as it looks to bring content and product closer to each other via creativity.

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