- Airbnb announced in a company blog post that it is canceling a contest where participants had a chance to sleep on the Great Wall of China. It was part of the company's plans to promote China as a destination.
- The contest, announced last week, backfired with users on the Chinese social network Weibo expressing concern for the landmark. The Beijing Yanqing Cultural Department also said it had not received an application for the event, but did not specifically name Airbnb, The Drum reported.
- The event would have also included a multi-course gourmet dinner and traditional Chinese music. To enter, entrants were asked to explain, “Why it is important now more than ever to break down barriers between cultures? How would you want to build new connections?”
While Airbnb has often found success with its experiential campaigns — from its floating house in the River Thames to its Live There campaign — this most recent stunt shows that it may be a company struggling through recent changes to its marketing executive team. In addition to the loss of its CMO, The Drum reported that its global marketing director Alexandra Dimiziani has also stepped down.
The backlash shows that despite the company's goals to spotlight unique travel experiences in China, it was out of touch with the country's historical preservation efforts for the more than 2,000-year-old Great Wall, a beloved destination for both tourists and locals.
Airbnb didn't explicitly apologize for the flub in its blog post, but the company said it respects the feedback on the promotion and stated its commitment to preserving historic destinations. The message also referenced "similar events" that it has held at unique and historic sites worldwide in cooperation with other destinations.
The negative response to the competition could potentially harm Airbnb's image in one its most important markets. The home-sharing app reports that 10 million Chinese travelers have used its listings since the company launched in 2008, with more than half in the last year, according to CNN. The number of listings in China has jumped 125%, and more than 3.3 million visitors stayed in those listings in the past year.
Providing one-of-a-kind travel experiences has been a hallmark of Airbnb's brand and marketing campaigns. In February, Airbnb said it was adding new property types and features to its existing lineup, including Beyond by Airbnb, which offers higher-end homes and customized experiences for luxury travel, and Airbnb for Family and Airbnb for Work. A loyalty program was also launched, along with "Collections," a feature that helps travelers with specific occasions. The company said it would be rolling out property categories for weddings, honeymoons, group travel and dinner parties this year.