Airbnb has seen massive growth in India since its launch. Over one million Indians have travelled on Airbnb globally. Airbnb listings in India have grown by 115 per cent in the past year, with over 30,000 listings all across India.
This has been made possible by Airbnb’s initiatives to build a community in the local market and partnerships with State-run tourism agencies. BusinessLine met Chris Lehane, Head of Public Policy & Communications, Airbnb, during his visit to Mumbai to announce a partnership with the Maharashtra government recently. Lehane spoke about the potential of the Indian market. Excerpts.
How does India look to you as a market?
India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world at 7 per cent with a growing middle class that wants to travel. India has 400-million-plus millennials and, like millennials everywhere, travel is at the top of things they want to do.
We have a projection that we need to have a billion people on our platform by 2028. To get there, India has to be one of our top markets and so we view it as one of the top 3 strategic markets for us. That’s not the same as top 3 today in terms of its size, but we see it being in the top three markets.
What’s been you experience with Indian regulations?
I would say that India is one of those places where people want to be able to optimise the economics of travelling.
For instance, Bryan, our CEO, met with the PM last year and they did an event together and talked a lot about the digitisation policy and the skilling up of the workforce. And I certainly don’t think that the Maharashtra government or the Prime Minister is looking at Airbnb as a solution to all of these things but certainly see us as a part of a larger process here.
How different and difficult is the market here?
Every place is a little bit different and unique. Anything that’s in people’s homes is a reflection of cultures, histories and politics. I think what we’ve seen here is, there’s this concept that if you are inviting a guest into the house, you treat them like God, ‘ Adithi devo bhava ’.
So I do think that there is an aspect of hosting that’s in the DNA or blood here.
As we look into this market, and this is one of the reasons why we’re here.
Why we’re investing so significantly here is that we see the domestic middle class driving an evolution in the housing stock here.
Airbnb has been working with both the State and the Central governments here. How is that playing out for you?
We did a meeting with the State (Maharastra) Tourism Minister and the Principal Secretary. We have been having ongoing conversations with the Central government.
We have 4-5 different agreements with different State governments.
For example, We have signed agreements with the North-Eastern Tourism Council, bringing tourism to the seven North-Eastern States and bringing a home sharing system over there.
That’s doing very well for us because those States have very beautiful places that people want to go to.
We have an MoU with the National Skill Development System where we had an agreement with the Prime Minister last year that we will create 50,000 hosting entrepreneurs who will serve in the under-served areas.
We are proactively knocking at the government’s door and saying we’re here and explaining what we do.
How much time do you think it will take for India to be one of your top 5 markets in terms of business?
It’s hard to answer that question. If you look at some of the underlying data, it suggests that it’s going to be on pace with the middle class growth here.
So what are you investing in currently?
Our primary focus is to make people aware at a grassroot level that it is host acquisition, getting these partnerships, training people and also making more and more people understand that they can travel light. Focus is entirely on developing the market.
You have 31,000 homes. What is your target by 2020?
We are at an infinite horizon. We are excited about the growth we’re seeing here, but this is a long-term thing for us. We’re in no rush.