Airbnb's next big push? China

Many of the top tech titans have faced roadblocks in China, but the CEO of the home-rental marketplace says he believes his company can be different.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
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Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says China is the next frontier for the company. Airbnb

SAN FRANCISCO -- Airbnb is already in 34,000 cities around the world. Now the apartment- and home-rental company has its sights on China.

CEO Brian Chesky said Tuesday that the "next level" for the company will be its expansion into the East Asian nation.

We're looking at "how can we invest and be much more aggressive about the opportunity we have to grow in China," Chesky said during a talk at the Urban Land Institute real estate conference in San Francisco.

Founded in 2008, the popular home-rental website now operates in 190 countries and has more than 1.5 million listings. Getting there hasn't been easy, however. Airbnb has battled regulators, unions and housing advocates who see the service as either unsafe or responsible for tightening housing markets. Its expansion into China probably won't be any less complicated, as the country is known for censorship and strict regulations.

Many American companies, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, have seen their websites blocked in China. And others, like ride-hailing service Uber, have dealt with heavy regulations and office raids from local authorities.

Despite these issues, China is still a major lure to tech companies. With nearly 1.5 billion people and a growing middle class, China represents a lucrative market. Also, Chinese travelers have been the world's top spenders in international tourism since 2012, according to the World Tourism Organization. Airbnb says outbound travel from Chinese residents through its service has grown 700 percent in the last year alone.

Airbnb said in August that it raised an undisclosed amount of funding from China Broadband Capital and Sequoia China. The investments were part of a $1.5 billion funding round that valued Airbnb at $25.5 billion, making it the third-highest venture-backed company in the world. Airbnb said the investments will be used to recruit a CEO for Airbnb China and to "navigate the China market and create a truly localized presence for the company."

Chesky reiterated this sentiment on Tuesday and said that in dealing with regulators, Airbnb will be proactive in its outreach to cities.

"We cannot be a brand that fights cities," Chesky said. "We're trying to find a way to work with everyone."