China’s zero-COVID policy not to blame for Airbnb’s withdrawal
Published: May 25, 2022 01:16 AM
The Airbnb logo Photo: IC

The Airbnb logo Photo: IC

In reports about US vacation rental company Airbnb's plan to close its business in China, some Western media outlets have deliberately shifted their target toward China's dynamic zero-COVID policy. Airbnb's decision came after "harsh COVID-19 lockdowns compounded the pain from mounting local competition," the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) claimed.

By forging a farfetched association between Airbnb's withdrawal plan and other foreign companies' decision to pull out of the Chinese market, the WSJ report is blaming these companies' business adjustments on China's regulatory and anti-epidemic polices, which seriously distorts the facts.

In Airbnb's case, the home-sharing company is only a small competitor in the Chinese market. Bookings of stays and experiences in China typically account for about 1 percent of Airbnb's overall revenue, according to a source familiar with its withdrawal decision, WSJ said. Dealing with the mounting pressure from the protracted COVID-19 pandemic across the world, it's a perfectly reasonable choice for the company to concentrate on its major revenue sources.

On the other hand, although Airbnb is very influential in the international market, given its small market share in China, its decision to close the business here cannot be used to badmouth China's domestic tourism market. China's tourism industry has indeed encountered certain difficulties amid the ferocious Omicron flare-up, but the impact is temporary and the sector will gradually recover as the outbreaks are tamed.

The WSJ report said that China's anti-epidemic measures have made it costlier for Airbnb to operate a travel business in China, and the company decided "it wasn't worth the payout." But Airbnb said it would not entirely give up the Chinese market, and will pivot their efforts in China to focus on the outbound travel business, so the company has clearly not lost confidence in the market.

China's anti-epidemic efforts are bringing the Omicron flare-up under control and major cities like Shanghai are gradually returning to normal, but Western media reports have not stopped their hype about the impact of the country's active anti-epidemic policy on foreign companies. They claimed that China's dynamic zero-COVID-19 policy has sparked criticism from the foreign business community, fueled public frustration and made China's full-year growth target of 5.5 percent even more out of reach.

However, as Chinese authorities attach great importance to facilitating foreign businesses' operations while protecting public health, foreign businesses' confidence has actually been boosted by China's effective measures to promote production resumption. For example, US electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla's Shanghai Gigafactory resumed production in April. The US firm has also announced a massive hiring plan for research and development talent in the city.

It is nonsense to hype the so-called flight of foreign companies from China due to the epidemic control measures. Any clear mind will understand that the temporary difficulties from the anti-epidemic measures in Chinese cities are in exchange for protecting public health and building up solid foundations for the subsequent economic recovery. China has full capability to tackle the epidemic while promoting economic recovery at the same time.

Airbnb, in one of the most-affected sectors amid COVID-19, is undoubtedly facing a serious test. However, its withdrawal is by no means representative of the vast majority of foreign companies that continue to benefit from China's continued opening-up. As China continues to optimize the business environment, more and more foreign companies will choose to expand their presence in the Chinese market in the future.

The author is an editor with the Global Times.