Is China's Airbnb Xiaozhu any good?

Check out Chinese home-grown brand in the short-stay rentals market

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A new kid on the block is taking on Airbnb in the short-stay rentals market. Time Out discover how home-grown brand Xiaozhu is winning Shanghai's trust


What is Xiaozhu?

Xiaozhu 小猪 (meaning ‘piglet’, homophonous with 小住 – ‘short stay’) is China’s eerily similar service to Airbnb. It launched in 2012 and has been slowly gaining a user base over the past few years. Essentially, it uses the same concept of the ‘sharing economy’ and peer-to-peer transactions championed by Airbnb and Uber: the idea that each and every one of us can play a part in a bigger service – and be individually paid for it.


With the number of Chinese travellers growing both domestically and abroad, coupled with some recent snazzy ad campaigns from Xiaozhu, the concept of homestays in strangers’ houses and apartments might finally be starting to take off in China.


What does Xiaozhu look like?

Visually, it looks like Airbnb but with warmer tones on its homepage, against which a parade of cosy and often pristine-looking apartments are promoted.


Compared to the Chineselanguage version of Airbnb that launched this year, there’s more of a social media vibe to Xiaozhu, with extended personal profile pages as well as blogs written by users about their user experiences. For now, though, Xiaozhu only offers domestic rentals within China.


Wait, I thought Chinese people ‘didn’t like to stay with strangers’?

That’s true, but remember, you can rent out the whole flat to avoid bunking with a complete random. Safety is a genuine concern for many people – particularly when booking for their families – but the younger generation are more willing to give it a go at the very least. Plus, it’s mostly cheaper than staying at a hotel, a crucial consideration for any budget traveller. Foreigners can use it too, registering with their passports.


Aren’t there loads of scams on property rental websites? What makes this one trustworthy?

You’re right, credibility is a real issue for companies listing rentals online, and frequent scams have garnered a general sense of distrust in China. To get around this, Xiaozhu and Mayi (a competitor) offer significantly more advice and hand-holding for customers than Airbnb. The Chinese platforms require real-name registration from both parties and have customer service phone lines that are easily accessible. Xiaozhu even provides free insurance for both the homeowner and guests, and has its own team of ‘home photographers’, so that images are verified.


On Airbnb, the ‘Help’ option just displays a series of FAQs. Speaking to someone is only possible online, but they would clearly rather you figured it out for yourself. China prefers the personal touch.


So what’s this ‘Mayi’ of which you speak?

Xiaozhu’s main rival in China is Mayi (蚂蚁, as in ‘ants’), a spinoff from the huge listings website Ganji.com. Both Xiaozhu and Mayi have had solid financial backing in recent years, and both cater to users looking at both highand low-end properties. Meanwhile, Tujia (途家, ‘journey home’), an earlier attempt at conquering the homestay market, focuses on shortterm rentals of luxury apartments.


So does Chinese-language Airbnb have any hope ?

Yes. The difference between Xiaozhu and Airbnb is that while the Chinese website is proving popular with domestic stays, Airbnb is still the go-to internationally – including among Chinese tourists.


What the users say

Tigercat33 on Xiaozhu

‘I’m registered on both Airbnb and Xiaozhu. The former is foreign and doesn’t have its ear to the ground in China. All the Chinese websites have customer service numbers to call, but Airbnb only has an online service at best.’


Xu Linna on Airbnb

‘I’ve used Airbnb in Europe, it was fine. I would probably use one of the Chinese websites in China as I think it’s legitimate, but one of my friends thinks it’s easy to get conned on these websites in China.’


Shidashuang on Xiaozhu

‘Airbnb in my experience is not very reliable. You can’t use Facebook to sign on in China and it’s just not very userfriendly; there were too many bugs with the app, too. Similar to my Uber experience – I had no problems with the Didi taxi app, but I remember the first time I used Uber, it just made no sense!’


Yuan Ren

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