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We continue to engage with Indian market to understand cultural nuances: Juliana Nguyen, Airbnb

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We continue to engage with Indian market to understand cultural nuances: Juliana Nguyen, Airbnb

What Airbnb did when it entered the Indian market was to literally change the way people travel within the country and even abroad. Gone were the days of formal and clinical hotel stays.The unique concept of home-sharing struck a chord with Indians as if it somewhere connected with the 'atithi devo bhava' motto that has been followed by generations.
Juliana Nguyen, ‎Regional Brand Marketing Director, APAC, Airbnb, shares her thoughts on how Airbnb is faring in this multi-cultured and diversified country that is India. Excerpts:

The entire concept of Airbnb was new to India. How did the brand market itself in the nascent days?

With each new market that Airbnb has entered, we have taken the time to understand the spirit of the locals, who have gone on to become part of our global community of travellers and hosts.

India is characterised by its cultural diversity and the spirit of hospitality found in the concept of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ or ‘The Guest is next to God Himself.’ This spirit is inherent in homes across the country, with hosts who are inclined to best serve their guests, and to introduce them to the nuances of local life. This is in line with the value that Airbnb enables people to feel like they can belong anywhere in the world, even if it is just for a night. This is what distinguishes India’s hosting culture, as we continue to form a strong community of hosts who are opening their hearts and homes to the world. Since it’s inception in 2008, close to 1 million Indians have travelled with Airbnb. This figure is a testimony to the acceptance we have witnessed from Indian travellers to a new way of discovering the world. Over the past year, Airbnb, has witnessed 115% growth in listings in the country and such positive numbers clearly showcase the importance of India to our overall growth plan.

Over time, we have continued to engage with the market in order to deepen our understanding of the cultural nuances and local dynamics. We have also encouraged the host community to come together and share best practices and hosting experiences with one another.

In April, 2017 we launched the ‘Live There’ campaign in India, which was born from a basic insight about what travellers seek when they embark upon their journeys. Through the campaign, we aimed to inspire travellers to re-imagine what travel means to them, highlighting the authentic and magical experiences made possible through Airbnb and its community of over 4 million homes.

Focused on building a deeper connects with the new age Indian traveller, we have worked towards establishing a stronger local resonance amongst our growing Indian community. Taking #LiveThere a step further, we also partnered with Viacom 18’s entertainment channel MTV India to host the online #LiveThere contest giving the young Indian traveller the chance to have a unique travel experience. Contest winners got the chance to head to their favourite destination accompanied by popular celebrities – DJ Nikhil Chinnapa in Thailand; fashion icon, VJ Anushka Dandekar in Milan and Bollywood actress Radhika Apte in London. To showcase how Airbnb gives the world a view into local customs and culture, we also recently launched a Diwali campaign under the ‘Live There’ banner to welcome the world to celebrate the festival of Diwali in India like locals do.

You are in the market space of online hotel booking, which in itself is a fairly crowded sector. Could you please share details of your present marketing strategy in India?

Airbnb is a people-powered platform that connects guests with hosts - community is at the heart of what we do. The beauty of the brand is that we have been a global platform right from the start, with a network of guests and hosts that span across the globe.

What sets us apart is that we focus on the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of travel, more than ‘what’ or ‘where.’ Airbnb is bringing together a global community of people who want to discover more about the world, and travel holds the key to bringing this community closer together.

Right now, our biggest focus in India is to get more people to become acquainted to the value that Airbnb can add to their travel experiences, and to reap the benefits of home-sharing. We’re on a steady growth trajectory in the country as we continue to expand our network.

Going by the strong influence that films have on the new age Indian traveller, we launched the ‘Ae Dil Lets Airbnb’ campaign in partnership with the Bollywood film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil late in 2016. The campaign celebrated the relationship between Bollywood and travel, which makes movie lovers plan their itineraries based on popular destinations where their favourite films have been shot. Fans got a chance to travel to relive the experience of the film, and explore the cities recommended by Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar.

We have also collaborated with leading Bollywood celebrities and influencers, Shah Rukh Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Twinkle Khanna to offer them one of a kind travel experiences when travelling to their favourite destinations with family or friends. These celebrities have then shared their experiences with their large fan base via their social media platforms, which have helped garner positive visibility for the brand. These influencer associations have helped us in building a deeper connect with our young, dynamic audience who love to emulate their favourite stars.

Looking to strengthen our presence in local markets which have shown promise in terms of volume of guests and hosts using Airbnb, we also launched the Airbnb Goa Insiders Guide where we curated insights by local, Goan Airbnb hosts and renowned influencers or ‘insiders’ to help travellers live the life of a local and discover the distinct cultural nuances when they book an Airbnb home. The guide also featured a preface by renowned film producer and interior designer Gauri Khan as well as a list of recommended villas by her. Travellers will have access to the Airbnb ‘Goa Insider’s Guide’ at Airbnb listings across Goa and can refer to its digital copy here.

What is your marketing mix usually like?

We have a holistic, 360-degree approach to engage with the travel community in India. This includes a mix of print, television, out-of-home, and a significant focus on digital and social media.

What are Airbnb’s marketing plans for the remaining of this year and the next year?

With almost a million Indian’s having travelled on Airbnb, the concept of home sharing is fast gaining acceptance and popularity in India. Additionally, India as a market is not only home to a growing traveller base, but is also an attractive destination for travellers from across the world owing to its vibrant colourful cultural diversity and heritage.

Over the next year, we intend to sustain this momentum and forge mutually beneficial partnerships with local business and communities, regulatory bodies, state governments and relevant influencers to take Airbnb deeper into the market as well as to build a deeper connect with the Indian audience.

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