Airbnb to close in China amid repeated Covid lockdowns

Airbnb is closing down its business inside China indefinitely, as the country’s zero-Covid policy, lockdowns and travel restrictions continue.

On Tuesday Airbnb told its China-based users it would cease taking all bookings for accommodation and experiences in China from 30 July. The ability to book for dates beyond 29 July was suspended on Tuesday morning, according to screenshots of the Airbnb notice shared across Chinese social media. An attempt by the Guardian to make bookings from outside China after that date produced an error message.

According to a source familiar with the decision, who confirmed the shutdown, Airbnb’s domestic business in China is suffering under China’s pandemic restrictions, with no indication that authorities intend to move towards co-existence with the virus or opening its borders.

As a wave of Omicron cases has spread across China, the government has doubled down on its policy of eliminating Covid-19. Major cities including Shanghai and Beijing have been subjected to city-wide or localised lockdowns, and there are widespread travel restrictions between cities and provinces.

The accommodation provider has operated inside China since 2016 with domestic listings across the country. In that time about 25 million guests have made bookings, according to the company, but it is costly and complex to operate and faces strong local competition. The revenue from China-based stays account for approximately 1% of global takings, the source told the Guardian, and Covid-19 has worsened the issues and heightened their impact.

Chinese media outlet, Pheonix news, reported Airbnb would maintain an office with “hundreds” of employees in Beijing.

The company declined to comment further on the record.

The news became a trending topic on China’s Weibo social media platform on Tuesday, with many comments focusing on how little a share of the market Airbnb held, even before the pandemic.

Chinese residents face heavy restrictions on international travel, which has affected the global tourism industry. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of Chinese tourists travelling overseas nearly tripled to 155 million.

But as the rest of the world reopens, Airbnb claims it reached a record high number of bookings in the first quarter of this year, with more than 102 million bookings for accommodation and experiences. “Guests are booking more than ever before,” Airbnb told shareholders in a letter. “Looking ahead, we see strong sustained pent-up demand.”

The company said trends of people booking stays away from urban areas and staying relatively close to home continued, but guests were also returning to cities and making cross-border trips.

Additional reporting by Xiaoqian Zhu

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