Ashee Sharma

"Almost half a million Indians have already tried Airbnb": Amanpreet Bajaj, country manager, India, Airbnb

We spoke to Amanpreet Bajaj, country manager, India, Airbnb, about the brand's latest campaign 'Don't go there. Live there', and more.

"Wherever you go - go with all your heart", said Confucius. In its ongoing global campaign, which is also running in the India market, online marketplace and community-driven hospitality website Airbnb, echoes the same thought - 'Don't go there, live there...'

Conceptualised by TBWAChiatDay Los Angeles, the 360-degree global campaign is simultaneously running in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, China, France, Korea, and India. While Airbnb has not made any formal announcements about its India plans, the fact that it should feature in the above list, is testimony to the importance of this market for the California-based brand.

"Almost half a million Indians have already tried Airbnb": Amanpreet Bajaj, country manager, India, Airbnb
"Almost half a million Indians have already tried Airbnb": Amanpreet Bajaj, country manager, India, Airbnb
In the ad, the brand name has been used as a verb, and a voiceover highlights the benefits of 'Airbnb'ing' in different locations over using other conventional means. It urges people not to 'tour', 'go to', or 'do' a place, but to 'live' there instead.
"Almost half a million Indians have already tried Airbnb": Amanpreet Bajaj, country manager, India, Airbnb
"Almost half a million Indians have already tried Airbnb": Amanpreet Bajaj, country manager, India, Airbnb
"The objective of this campaign is to help people re-imagine travel," says Amanpreet Bajaj, country manager - India, Airbnb. "Today, travel is no more about checking a to-do list or standing in long queues to get a glimpse of what everyone else also wants to see. It's about authentic, local and personalised experiences. It's as much about the neighbourhood, as it is about home or where you stay," he says.

India Focus

Currently, the Airbnb home-sharing model has made inroads into 191 countries, 34,000 cities, and two million homes across the globe. Last year was a banner year for the brand as far as growth in Asia and India is concerned. The India listings grew by 115 per cent to over 18,000. Further, there has been more than 180 per cent (year-on-year) growth in inbound and outbound travel using the platform.

Bajaj believes that given the vibrant culture and hospitality of India, it can be best 'experienced' only through a platform like Airbnb. "India is a strategic market for us. With internet penetration, the economy, and travel and tourism taking off in a big way, we feel it is the right time for us to invest more in ad-marketing. The challenge is to educate people about the concept and benefits of home-sharing, and that is our priority right now," he shares.

While this one's an international ad, the next phase of the campaign, Bajaj tells us, will showcase Airbnb guest and host stories across multiple mediums, and many of them will be India-specific. "Even though this campaign is global, it has been executed in a manner that will appeal to everyone. Our research shows that the favourite international destinations among Indians include Paris, New York, and London, and the ad talks about these cities," he states.

The Global Indian Traveller

"Almost half a million Indians have already tried Airbnb": Amanpreet Bajaj, country manager, India, Airbnb
Talking about the TG, Bajaj shares that Airbnb has quite a diverse guest and host community in India. Whether it's the elderly or the young, working professionals or students, the platform has been gaining traction among all segments. Even though, one is likely to assume that safety concerns would result in a lopsided gender ratio of users worldwide, over 53 per cent of Airbnb guests and 55 per cent of hosts are women. This is thanks to a 24x7 global safety team across time zones, efficient payment tools, and other programmes such as the 'host guarantee system' (which covers losses of up to a million dollars) that the website has in place. The India-scenario, insists Bajaj, is no different.

"Almost half a million Indians have already tried Airbnb. There's also a great demand for our services from the 230 million millennials in urban India," he says, adding that "while most of the travel originates in the top 10-12 cities, the host community is spread rather evenly across the over 100 cities that we have reached so far."

It is true that Airbnb is a disruptor in the global travel and tourism landscape, and its appeal has been growing steadily in India as well. But, the disparity is huge. As compared to the 18,000 India listings, Paris alone, as a city, has over 80,000.

For Bajaj, however, this is a great opportunity. "Indians have travelled to more than 160 countries on Airbnb, and what we have seen is that they are like any other global traveller seeking adventure and unique experiences wherever they go. Now the only challenge for us is to understand their specific needs and offer relevant services," he remarks.

Airbnb's research has shown that over 39 per cent Indians prefer travelling as couples and 34 per cent travel in groups, and hence, they prefer apartments with kitchen facility for accommodation. Moreover, they also approach travel agents to seek counselling for both domestic and international travel.

Looking at these trends, the brand tied-up with Thomas Cook in India to give people an option to book an Airbnb through a Thomas Cook agent.

Thriving in a parallel ecosystem

Globally, the growth and adoption of services, business models, and technology has been more or less sequential, but India always had its own quirks. Take for example, computers. Even before the category could get a stronghold in the country, mobiles took over.

Similarly, in the travel and tourism space, Airbnb is competing with a parallel ecosystem of online branded budget hotel chains such as Oyo, Zo and Stayzilla, in order to lure the Indian traveller. The latter began early and are, today, relatively big on the advertising and marketing front. Does that bother Bajaj? Is there a chance that one of them could be bypassed or could lose out in the growing conundrum?

"The hospitality market in India is big enough for all of us to co-exist. For us to win, they don't have to lose, and the reverse is also true. We are expanding the market rather than taking a share of it. Our value proposition is unique, and if we can create the right kind of awareness around it, we are sure, there are exciting times ahead," says Bajaj.

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