A family find time to bond after dinner at a rented home booked through Zhubaijia, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, earlier this year. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY
Growing outbound Chinese tourists try out new apps offering innovative homestay services
Wang Xiaochuan, 40, a restaurant owner in Beijing, had visited Japan 15 times, but the very thought of her 16th trip made her nervous. Her anxiety during the run-up to the February visit arose from the realization that this time she would be traveling with her aged parents and in-laws. The four septuagenarians had never been abroad.
"The anxiety haunted me for weeks until my husband turned to Zhubaijia for help," she said. The Shenzhen-based company, usually seen as China's answer to Airbnb Inc, has gone far beyond simple offers of domestic and overseas vacation rentals.
"Its service is really impressive," Wang said. After she booked an old villa in Kyoto, the company's employees helped her deal with tasks like booking restaurants and hiring a car (whose driver later doubled up as a guide-cum-photographer).
"I used to resist the idea of renting someone's house. But this trip made me realize that the money saved in homestays can help pay for other value-added services."
Like many outbound Chinese tourists, Wang benefited from the new overseas butler service of Zhubaijia. It is part of broad efforts by online players in China's hospitality industry, including Tujia and Xiaozhu, to outshine competitors such as Airbnb in popular overseas tourist markets.
Last year, Chinese travelers made 122 million outbound trips, up 4.3 percent from a year earlier, maintaining the country's position as the world's largest outbound tourism market, according to the China National Tourism Administration.
"Unlike foreign backpackers who look forward to do-it-yourself traveling experience, Chinese outbound travelers don't prefer uncertainty. They are eager to enjoy one-stop service," said Guo Xiao, executive vice-president of Zhubaijia.
The company, which has raised more than 600 million yuan (.24 million) from HNA Group, inked a deal with the latter's hotel unit in April to cooperate on products and sales channels, in a move to meet consumers' increasingly complex demands for personalized services.
To date, Zhubaijia has 270,000 overseas listings in 80 countries and regions. More importantly, it has about 10,000 part-time overseas butlers to better serve users and manage houses, the company said.
Sensing potential for growth in this segment, Xiaozhu, another player with focus on the domestic home-stay market, ventured into foreign countries this year. It started with South Korea, Japan and other neighboring Southeast Asian countries, all popular destinations for Chinese tourists.
With about 1,000 listings in Japan, Xiaozhu is growing, said Chen Chi, its CEO. "We plan to open a branch in Japan later this year. Japan has a long history of homestay services and it has abundant, good room resources."
During the cherry blossom season in early spring (March-April), its room booking rate in Japan reached 100 percent. Unlike Zhubaijia that targets high-end travelers, Xiaozhu focuses on price-sensitive consumers.
"Chinese travelers, especially those born in the 1980s and the 1990s, are becoming increasingly accustomed to homestay in the domestic market. They are the main spenders. So, it would be unreasonable to ask them to use one app for booking rooms in China and another app in overseas markets. We're moving in advance to grow the supply of quality houses in foreign countries," Chen said.