MANILA, Philippines – Providing a place to stay for travelers on a budget has been made easier by home and apartment rental site Airbnb, which has over half a million listings in 192 countries all over the world.
But aside from providing a cheaper alternative lodging to hotels, Airbnb also helps in promoting 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 on ANC’s “Inside Business.”
Chai said renting out at a home, a bedroom, or an apartment unit in a foreign city allows travelers to have a unique experience that a hotel stay can’t offer.
“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.
For the hosts, the rental service also allows them to showcase a “personal touch” of hospitality.
Chai, who was in Manila last week for the World Economic Forum on East Asia, said most of the hosts in Asia “go the extra mile” in giving a pleasurable experience to tourists.
“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 also said that for the World Economic Forum, he chose to use the Airbnb service rather than book at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel, where the forum was held.
He added that some of the participants of the event told him they also used the rental service for their short stay in the Philippines.
'For creative types'
Chai, however, admits that the service isn't mainstream, and may cater more to the creative types who are visiting a city for the experience and not for 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.
Airbnb has drawn criticism that its platform disrupts the traditional lodging industry, but Chai believes that Airbnb and similar platforms target a different market, noting that hotel occupancy rates “are high as ever.”
“The segment that we target is quite different [from hotels],” he said.
Chai added that more Asian travelers are starting to go the way of “independent traveling,” which entails 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.
Chai said the company expects a 200 percent to 300 percent yearly growth in number of Airbnb travelers in the Philippines.