University Students Mourn Airbnb’s Departure from China

College students didn’t just use Airbnb listings as travel accommodation but as an escape from cramped dormitories

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May 26, 2022 2 mins read

On May 23, word leaked that American company Airbnb, an online marketplace for home rentals, will soon cease its operations in China.

The company, which has struggled to stay afloat in China due to Covid-induced travel restrictions, will reportedly suppress its listings in the Chinese mainland while maintaining its office in Beijing.

The news has made its rounds on the Chinese web, and a related hashtag has gained more than 270 million views on Weibo.

Some users have mourned Airbnb’s departure with comments such as, “Every time I went for a trip, I would use Airbnb. RIP.”

Others have made bitter and sarcastic comments, ranging from, “I can’t even get out of my apartment; how could I use Airbnb?!” to “[I don’t think] it’s caused by peer competition. Are there even competitors still in business?!”

More than anyone, university students have been particularly saddened by the news.

airbnb china

Chinese tourists taking pictures at a historical site in China. Image via Wikimedia

Qiao Yu, 25, a master’s student at the Nanjing University of Fine Arts, told RADII that Airbnb was her go-to between the years of 2015 and 2019.

“My first time using Airbnb was for a trip to Southeast Asia with some friends, right after we had sat for our college entrance examinations,” recalled Yu. “We chose Airbnb over a hotel stay to experience local life.”

According to Yu, many Chinese students and youth gravitate towards Airbnb, whereas older generations prefer Chinese apps such as Trip.com (formerly known as CTrip).

While many travel apps undoubtedly offer more services than Airbnb, such as flight bookings and car rentals, Airbnb holds more appeal to youth for various reasons.

College students, who often live in cramped dormitories, often turn to Airbnb to book temporary living quarters for birthday parties, holidays, and other special occasions, shared Yu.

airbnb china

A cozy Airbnb listing in China. Image via Weibo

Shanghai-based international student Amarsanaa Battulga, who has resided in China for nearly seven years, has often relied on Airbnb to sustain a long-distance relationship and for get-togethers with friends since 2018.

“The main factors for this are the prices and having access to a kitchen,” said Battulga, who added that foreign nationals often find it tricky to check into hotels, especially cheaper and smaller establishments — a problem that the pandemic has exacerbated.

Battulga recounted a negative experience that happened in January 2022: Even though it had been two years since the first Covid-19 outbreak, he was asked to fill in several forms detailing his travel history and was questioned about whether he had visited Wuhan recently.

In comparison, Battulga has had a much easier check-in at Airbnbs. “Airbnbs, most of the time, are much less Kafkaesque,” said the international student.

Both Yu and Battulga opined that Airbnb venues in China are of higher quality than those listed on domestic alternatives such as Ctrip and Qunar.

But with no end in sight for the ongoing lockdowns across the country, neither plans on traveling in the near future.

“I used to buy single-use towels and bed sheet covers in bulk, and I still have several left. I guess I won’t get to use them, at least for now,” sighed Battulga.

Cover image via Weibo

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