China's Airbnb rival is taking the battle overseas
Tujia is chasing the rapidly growing number of Chinese people traveling abroad to popular destinations in Southeast Asia, Japan, and South Korea.
China's leading home-rental site Tujia has been a thorn in Airbnb's side in the world's most populous country. It is often referred to as a clone of Airbnb, but Tujia co-founder Melissa Yang takes issue with that.
"We are not copying anyone's business model," she said in an interview with CNN.
Tujia first started out renting out vacation properties that were essentially mini-hotels, fully run by Tujia staff.
The home-rental side of the company - which, like Airbnb, connects property owners with travelers looking for alternatives to hotels - came later. But to address Chinese hosts and travelers' general wariness, Tujia offers a broader range of services than Airbnb, like inspecting and cleaning properties.
Now, Tujia is chasing the rapidly growing number of Chinese people traveling abroad to popular destinations in Southeast Asia, Japan, and South Korea. The company is currently seeking a fresh round of funds, in part to help expand products and properties abroad.
Tujia set up a small team in Japan in 2016, and Yang says bookings have now quadrupled there in just one year.
Airbnb has been targeting overseas Chinese travelers for years. It says one of the reasons it's expanding in Japan at the moment is to gain more traction and name recognition among Chinese visitors to the country.
Airbnb is also stepping up its efforts in China, a market it had neglected for years. It has just 80,000 listings in China, compared with Tujia's 430,000.
While Tujia has the bigger scale in China, Yang acknowledges that Airbnb is in a strong position to attract overseas Chinese travelers.
The U.S. startup has 3 million listings worldwide, compared with Tujia's 20,000 outside of China.
Yang lived in the U.S. for more than a decade and has traveled all over the world.
While living in Seattle in 2006, Yang founded Escapia, a startup that provided vacation rental software. It caught the eye of Airbnb rival HomeAway, which bought it for about USD 10 million in 2010, according to SEC filings.
Yang then moved back to Beijing and co-founded Tujia in 2011. The company became a unicorn - a startup worth USD 1 billion or more - in 2015.
Yang recently stepped back from Tujia's day-to-day operations and is searching for promising startups in China as an entrepreneur in residence with investment firm IDG Capital.
Like many in the tech industry, she believes artificial intelligence will fundamentally change the world.
To the big AI question -- Are we all going to be replaced by robots? -- she has a blunt answer:
"Sooner or later, yeah."
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