Interview with Jia Jih Chai: The Airbnb Managing Director Shares How the Company Keeps It Real in Asia
With a presence in Southeast Asia since 2012, accommodation rental service Airbnb is making inroads in the region with unique stays. Jia Jih Chai, managing director of Southeast Asia & India, is all for keeping it real.
Want the ultimate beach villa escape, dreaming of a lush rainforest retreat, or fantasising about having an entire island to yourself? Yes, the stay options in Asia run the gamut. Where once couch-surfing budget travellers lurked, now even business travellers are opting to rent a home for an experience that’s hard to beat.
How is the company holding up in Asia?
With a growth of 240 per cent outbound and 380 per cent inbound last year, Asia is our fastest growing region, and Singapore is our second biggest outbound travel market in Asia. We are present in all 11 countries that make up Southeast Asia, but Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are our most popular destinations.
Why choose Airbnb?
We give our guests the opportunity to discover the heart and soul of a city in an authentic way. People can book unusual spaces – from treehouses to yurts – from more than two million listings in over 190 countries and 34,000 cities. We have localised product features – in Thailand, apart from a Thai language version of our website and mobile app, we provide local bank transfers in Thai baht, so our hosts there receive payments faster and don’t have to pay fees. Also, in most cities, we offer free professional photography services, which provides hosts with verified photos of their property. This helps secure bookings quickly.
What can we look forward to?
We plan to increase the supply of accommodations, improve on customer service and offer more options to support our hosts. We want every traveller to feel like they can belong anywhere and that we can support them. For example, you can stay connected to our localised platform on web, mobile or tablet, and even access it on the Apple watch.
When you travel, do you opt for rentals too?
Always! I’ve chalked up over 20 stays last year alone on Airbnb across Asia. A particularly memorable one was in Delhi, where I stayed in a home with three generations under one roof. They invited me to join a Hindu festival called Karva Chauth, where wives will fast for a day to wish for their husbands’ good health. It ends with rituals in the evening and a big family feast. I’d never experienced Indian culture so up close before – it was a privilege and a great learning experience. Since then, I’ve been back twice and I feel like part of the family now!