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​Airbnb goes all-in for China, changes name to 'Aibiying'

The home rental company expands and rebrands in the Far East.

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Airbnb is expanding in China and bringing its excursions, or "Experiences," feature to Shanghai.

Airbnb

China, with its billion-plus population, is a major lure to tech companies. And Airbnb is no different.

The home rental company announced Tuesday it's doubling down on its efforts in China. First, it's changing its name to "Aibiying," which means "welcome each other with love" in Chinese. And, second, it's expanding its workforce in the country.

"There's a whole new generation of Chinese travelers who want to see the world in a different way," Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a statement. "I'm really excited about our future here."

Founded in 2008, the popular home-rental website now operates in 190 countries and has more than 3 million listings. Getting there hasn't been easy, however. Airbnb has battled regulators, hotel groups and housing advocates who have cast the service as responsible for tightening housing markets. The company's expansion into China could be equally as 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, dealt with heavy regulations and office raids from local authorities.

Then there's the local competition. China has its own version of many of these types of companies, including social networks, search engines, ride-hailing companies and home rental sites. Uber, for example, opted to leave China in August after tight competition from Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing.

Airbnb, however, is aiming to establish itself above the fray. The home rental company says it has been hiring and investing locally with plans to more than triple the size of its local workforce and double its investment in the country this year. Airbnb's only engineering center outside of the US is in China.

Airbnb has also been working to tailor its service specifically for Chinese users. It integrated a local payment method through Chinese company Alipay and added sign-up options through Chinese messaging app WeChat. Airbnb is also looking to work with regulators and has signed memorandums of understanding with major cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chongqing and Guangzhou.

In November, Airbnb announced that it was spinning off its Chinese business into a separate company called Airbnb China. The change appears to have happened for the company to be in compliance with local laws regulating foreign businesses in China.

Airbnb's work in China seems to have paid off. The company says more than 5.3 million Chinese travelers have stayed at Airbnb rentals around the world so far, and outbound travel from Chinese residents grew 142 percent in 2016 alone. Additionally, home rentals are popping up across the country. Airbnb says it currently has about 80,000 listings and has seen nearly 1.6 million guest arrivals in China.

"We hope that Aibiying... strikes a chord with [Chinese travelers] and inspires them to want to travel in a way that opens doors to new people, communities and neighborhoods across the world," Chesky said.

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