It’s cool to visit exotic destinations and post fancy travel photos on Instagram, but it can be confusing and frustrating to be in an entirely strange environment where people speak a different language and you have no ideas what the signs on the street mean.
To tackle the problem, Onehome.me was born: a home-rental platform that is tailored for Chinese speakers travelling abroad.
Facilitating outbound travel
“There are many outbound destinations where locals speak English. Chinese travelers can only find a few places where they can talk with locals with their native language,” said Ms. Cherry Jin, Co-Founder of Onehome.
Founded in the first half of 2015, Onehome is an “Airbnb-like” platform that connects Chinese outbound travelers with overseas Chinese hosts.
Specifically, Onehome is designed for Chinese travelers in many aspects. Before booking, users can chat and bargain in Chinese with a host via the Onehome website or app. The rental price on the platform includes services charges, and travelers need to pay rental fees plus cleaning fees.
On top of home rental, Onehome users are offered more services, such as airport pickup, breakfast, and paid guide services.
Jin said that the host is like a consultant for the user’s trip. The host provides information on scenic spots that a visitor won’t find elsewhere, local hangout places for in-depth travel, and stores that sell authentic local specialities.
The vision of Onehome is to facilitate Chinese users’ outbound travel, Jin told AllChinaTech.
But its ambition is beyond a home rental platform. “We aim to offer one-stop services to Chinese outbound travelers,” said Jin.
Cracking a tough market
China saw over 120 million outbound trips in 2015, and 80% of them chose self-guided travel, according to the China National Tourism Administration.
Users spent an average of RMB 720 (USD 108) per night on Onehome. Assuming every traveller spent seven days per trip – and that the prices of Onehome are representative of the market – then the self-guided outbound travel accommodation market could be estimated to be worth around RMB 500 billion.
At the same time, Chinese travelers have some “home-grown” habits, that make the world’s largest group of consumers by outbound travel spending also one of the toughest areas to cater for with home rental platforms.
Multiple reports have shown that many Chinese have difficulty adjusting to western food when they travel abroad, because of the deep food traditions like those depicted in the widely popular documentary “A Bite of China”. As the old Chinese saying says: “Every Chinese has a Chinese stomach”.
What Onehome can offer is that most homes which they rent have kitchens where users can cook Chinese food.
“For Western travelers, you only need to list all aspects relating to a house, and they will read the list from beginning to end. Chinese tourists are different,” said Jin.
Home hygiene is another concern for China’s customer-to-customer (C2C) home rental platforms. Home owners, as well as travelers, vary greatly in hygiene standards.
“For a Western market, platforms need to do data structuring; for the Chinese market, we must do quality control, ” Jin said.
The leadership and its vision
By far, Onehome has offered overseas accommodation services in over 200 cities, with over 100,000 lodgings.
Aside from the home-rental app, Onehome has a global travel map to guide travelers and collect traveling data. These two apps have been downloaded altogether more than two million times.
“Onehome has two advantages – our products and the team,” said Jin.
The founder of Onehome, Yang Lianghai, is a seasoned entrepreneur. Before Onehome, he had founded three successful companies. His first company – the annual net profit of which at one point reached RMB 100 million in 2016 – provides value-added services to telecommunication operators. The second one was a video website, and the third company provides airplanes with entertainment systems.
Jin herself is a former Alibaba manager. She said that Onehome has attracted talent from Google, as well as China’s BAT giants – Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent.
Onehome secured a new round of funding in February, and the platform has some big plans for the new funds.
First, Onehome is going to introduce more agents. In some less popular areas, like in Japan’s Okinawa, Onehome will have some Chinese agents who serve travelers just like homeowners, Jin said.
Also, the platform will build a photography team to assist local hosts. These team members can take home photos and shoot videos for homeowners.
Furthermore, the platform will offer better user experience. Catering to its Chinese users, Onehome gives its homes some useful tags, such as Chinese food cooking and car-rental services. Another service offered is called daigou in Chinese, meaning buying on behalf of in English. This is when hosts help the Chinese tourists shop for items that are expensive on the Chinese mainland due to high import taxes.
“Onehome is the most specialized in the field, as a C2C home-rental platform for Chinese speakers who travel overseas,” said Jin.
Currently, Onehome has two branch offices outside of mainland China, in Hong Kong and in Singapore. Users pay home rental services with RMB on the platform, and the company changes the RMB to a variety of currencies.
The platform is also paying close attention to overseas destinations that are becoming more and more popular with customers. They will quickly launch homes for rent in these cities.
Tujia, a giant in China’s home-rental market with the tile “China’s Airbnb”, has been operating with a business-to-customer (B2C) model. As of the end of June, Tujia has over 710,000 properties.
However, Onehome is among the others that are striving to serve specialized customer groups that are left out by the overwhelmingly successful Airbnb.
Jin said that “localization is the biggest challenge for Airbnb.” For example, it can’t offer language aid to Chinese travelers.
“Airbnb is not like Uber,” she said. “It’s not realistic for home-rental platforms to initiate a cash-burning campaign to win the market.”
She said that home rental platforms, including Airbnb, are attracting customers by sending them “red envelopes” to subsidise their spending.
Right now, Airbnb’s user base is incomparably large. In the future its status may be shaken by one or more of these startups.
(Top photo from Pixabay.com)