Why Airbnb’s new Chinese name is an epic fail

Airbnb now has a Chinese name, and everyone in China is mocking it.

The American room-rental startup last week revealed its new brand name to be used in China — a three-character moniker “Aibiying”. Each character individually translated means “love,” “mutual” and “welcome.”

Airbnb said in Chinese on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, that the name means “let love meet each other.” The company further explained that more and more Chinese travelers are getting to know each other through Airbnb, and that the name represents their value and mission bringing together tens of millions of neighborhood communities around the world with love.

However, the company totally failed to impress Chinese people with this moniker. Rather, the Chinese name gave Chinese netizens some cheap entertainment, laughing at the expense of Airbnb.

Why? First, the pronunciation of this name is like some sort of difficult language test. Even for a native Chinese, this name is really hard to pronounce. There’s a high chance that Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky might have a hard time just spitting out the words.

Second, the name just sounds wrong in many ways. With the new moniker “Aibiying” quickly taking social media by storm, Airbnb has received an overwhelming amount of nasty comments.

Some said it’s corny; some said it sounds like a name for a sex toy shop, especially with the pink-colored background accompanying the logo. Some said that it sounds like a copycat porn company (because the second character “bi” sounds similar to a crude slang for female genitalia). Many said that the company should just drop the Chinese name altogether.

(Photo screenshot from Airbnb.com)
“Live like locals on your trip,” says Airbnb’s Chinese website. (Photo screenshot from Airbnb.com)

Airbnb’s rebranding with the name change is seemingly a bold move but, in fact, crucial. According to Fortune, localization will be the key for Airbnb to successfully penetrate the Chinese market. The company also showed its ambition by saying that this year it will increase its local workforce from 60 employees to 180 and double its investment in the market.

Something Airbnb should keep in mind, though, is the fierce competition in China. Tujia, China’s largest home-rental site, currently has over 400,000 properties available online and more than 800,000 properties in stock, while Airbnb, or “Aibiying,” only has a paltry 80,000 listings in China. In August 2015, Tujia secured USD 300 million in Series D financing, backed by All-Stars Investment, Ascott, and Ctrip.

Xiaozhu is another rival that Airbnb faces. Backed by the leading classified ad website 58.com and the search engine giant Baidu, Xiaozhu now has around ten million active users, enjoying resources of 100,000 property listings, covering 301 cities in China. In November 2016, Xiaozhu secured its Series C+ and Series D rounds of financing, totaling USD 65 million.

Airbnb apparently has a lot of catching up to do in China. Will Chinese people deal with the new, ugly-sounding name? In any case, renaming is just the first step for the American room-sharing startup to grow in the country. We’ll have to wait and see whether Airbnb can cut out a profitable niche from between its two major Chinese rivals.

Read also: More than Airbnb: How Tujia swallowed the largest home-rental market in China

(Top photo from Pixabay)

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