The 'new economy' constantly throws up a multiplicity of entrepreneurial ventures trying to solve the problems of modern India. By telling their stories I try to catch a glimpse of the entrepreneurial evolution that India is going through. I have a weakness for the gloss of novelty and chase it in all experiences, from exploring new cities and restaurants, to changing what I read.
Though it officially launched in India earlier this year, Airbnb, the sharing economy behemoth, has been present in the country for nearly six years. The company, currently valued at $30 billion, appointed Amanpreet Bajaj as its country manager for India in 2015. In an interview with Forbes India, Bajaj speaks about Airbnb’s bid to evangelise home sharing, and the increasingly competitive accommodations space. Edited excerpts:
Q. What did the preceding year, in the run-up to the official launch, entail for Airbnb?
What we’ve done is make more people aware of what we are. We worked a lot on understanding what Airbnb means to people and on creating hyperlocal events. The beauty of the platform is that we get a lot of referrals. In the last 12 months in India, we’ve seen our listings grow by about 115 percent (to 18,000 properties). This has happened in many cities, not just the metros.
Q. As a business, are there any peculiarities in India that you have had to adapt to?
Honestly, not much. The fact that we have pioneered home stays in 191 countries tells us that we’ve learnt from each market and incorporated that into the product. There were adjustments to the payments methods that we had to adapt to, so people could use net banking, debit cards, etc. Those were basic changes. Overall, our proposition is one that is globally accepted.
Q. Of late, India has seen a lot of activity in the accommodations space…
I see them [competitors] as helping expand the market. People say that Airbnb has disrupted the market. We like to say that we have brought in more choices for the consumer. For us to win, no one has to lose. Hospitality is a large market, and there is space for a number of people to co-exist.
Q. Is Airbnb also looking to provide travel solutions to enterprises?
We’re an open platform where people can book a home away from home. But what we’re seeing is that a lot of people are also using it for their business travel. Almost 10 percent of our business is business travel. So if you go to the platform, there are business travel-ready listings. We’ve identified facilities that suit business travellers, like 24x7 check-in, Wi-Fi connectivity, laptop-friendly workspaces and multiple other amenities.
Q. What are the company’s primary areas of focus in India?
Airbnb views India as a strategic priority. We’re seeing a lot of interest from the global parent. Our first attempt is to make sure more people know about Airbnb. We’ve recently launched a brand campaign, which talks about how travel should not be commoditised. What we’ve also done uniquely in India is get into a partnership with Thomas Cook. We haven’t partnered with a travel agent anywhere else, but we did this because a lot of Indians still go to a travel agent to get their bookings done. We’ll continue to localise and adapt and make sure more people know the benefits of home sharing.