Airbnb shifts focus to local residents

Airbnb shifts focus to local residents

Airbnb, the American sharing-economy platform, is seeking to recover its struggling business in Thailand by pivoting to domestic tourism, while providing mild relief to thousands of landlords on its platform nationwide.

Last year, Airbnb reported 2.5 million guests at its users' properties in Thailand through 99,000 listings, before facing massive drops in bookings this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Bloomberg reported that the company saw a 67% plunge in second-quarter revenue, from US$1 billion in 2019.

The company, which plans a stock listing this year, does not report specific data. But Airbnb has enjoyed a domestic tourism resurgence in Thailand in the post-lockdown period.

From May 31 to June 6, the number of domestic bookings (by local residents) surged 13% year-on-year.

As 92% of Airbnb guests in Thailand last year came from overseas, the company's user base has likely shrunk considerably since the ban on international travellers in March.

"We are seeing recovery of our business, but we are seeing our business take on a different form, from international to domestic travel," Mike Orgill, director of public policy for Asia-Pacific at Airbnb, told a media roundtable in Bangkok. "We are excited as countries are able to resolve the broader Covid crisis and reopen some of these travel corridors and will see Airbnb's business adapt to change."

The company has come under fire from hotel groups that accuse it of skirting local regulations by allowing the platform to be used by home renters without a hotel licence.

Airbnb has responded by lobbying the government, asking for clear regulations that would allow this new business model of short-term rentals without becoming burdensome for its landlords.

The company has been working with Thai authorities like the Department of Local Administration and the Community Development Department to promote local tourism.

It also worked with the Tourism Ministry to provide extra rooms for Thailand Moto GP 2018 in Buri Ram, which coincided with a partnership between the ministry and Grab Taxi, a tech company in similar legal limbo in Thailand.

To provide aid to those offering rentals on the platform, Airbnb relaxed its cancellation policy, removing penalties for cancellations that previously could jeopardise host privileges.

The company is also offering US$5,000 grants to its "superhosts" or hosts with a high booking and good review rates.

Airbnb is touting the positive impact it has made for Thailand through an economic impact report through the consultancy firm Oxford Economics.

The report says Airbnb guests and hosts added 43.7 billion baht to Thailand's GDP, which was calculated based on estimated tourism spending of its guests.

The report only considers gross tourism spending, however.

"When we refer to Airbnb guest spending in the study, we refer not only to the amount spent on Airbnb, but the wider spending that guests do during their time here," said James Lambert, director of economic consulting at Oxford Economics. "The majority of spending came outside the rental through the retail sector, restaurants and other non-accommodation services."

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