How an Airbnb-inspired Chinese B&B site differentiates itself in a vast market

An apartment listed on Muniao

Huang Yue founded Airbnb-like platform “Muniao” based on personal experience. In the summer of 2011, he went to the United States on a family holiday. Thinking that burgers and chips may not please the Chinese stomach, and that well-priced hotels might be booked up and not offer laundry services, he chose to stay with Airbnb. The spacious rooms and hospitable host surprised him and inspired him to build his own platform in China.

Without delay, he started to carry out his idea the moment he got home. The beta version of the platform went online in September of the same year, and was officially introduced to the public in May 2012.

Bed and breakfast vs. hotels and agents

The platform’s full name is Muniao Duanzu. Muniao means wooden bird in English and Duanzu means “short term rental”.

Huang said finding accommodation is a challenge for families traveling in China. “Despite all the hotels and hostels in China, family-friendly ones are rare,” he said.

Huang Yue, founder and CEO of Muniao.com (Photo from Muniao)

He explained that for a family of three, a standard room with two beds can be insufficient, as travelers must either crowd into the same room or pay for a pricier suite.

For example, said Huang, many people come to Beijing for short stays: patients come to get treatment, students come for exams and lectures, and businessmen come for meetings. For them, staying at a hotel or renting from an agent can be inconvenient and expensive because hotels don’t always have cooking and laundry facilities and the latter charges service fees.

“Bed & breakfasts offer amenities that are usually absent from traditional hotels,” said Huang. “Besides, you can get inside information from a local by staying with them.”

Aimed at providing travelers with more choices for accommodation, Muniao refuses to settle for being a copycat of Airbnb.

Why family trips and backpacking?

Family trips, which now account for 65% of Muniao’s total orders, have become a focus for the company. There are a few reasons, he said.

Firstly, people’s travel habits are changing. “Tourists in the past preferred to visit, say, seven cities in six days, but now, many of them want to stay in one city for an entire holiday for an in-depth travel experience.”

According to Reuters, there are about 13 million vacant homes in China, and since the excess must be digested, the bed & breakfast model has lots of room to grow. Besides, with China’s recently published two-child policy, there will be more and more families of four choosing B&Bs for their holidays, he added.

Other than the highlight on family trips, Muniao has been expanding its resources for featured accommodations. “Every home has a story to tell,” said Huang.

“While some like Japanese-style tatami rooms, others have a fondness for traditional Chinese interiors. By staying at a place of their own choice, travelers can build a good relationship with like-minded hosts.”

Featured accommodations that Muniao has to offer range from Chinese courtyards, inns with a sense of antiquity, and Mongolian yurts. There are also accommodations tailored for specific themes such as honeymoons.

Identity verification

When it comes to facilitating trust between travelers, hosts, and the platform, Huang said he hesitated at first and struggled with some decisions that he is now happy to have made.

These include introducing a system that verifies every registered user’s identity, building an online advance payment system, and cooperating with an insurance company to provide travel insurance during the stay. While the first two decisions could have been obstacles for people who want to join Muniao, they turned out to be welcomed by both hosts and travelers as a precondition for trust.

Once that trust is built and users have started to accumulate, services beyond providing a place to stay become part of the picture. Huang said they are now working with hosts to provide services like selling attraction tickets, car-hailing, catering, and restaurant recommendations and a list of the services that hosts can provide will be shown on Muniao in the second half of this year.

When will this wooden bird be able to fly?

Muniao landed tens of millions of RMB in Series B financing in February. Now with over 300,000 accommodation units, it will collect and share more resources in the 396 cities it has covered in China and introduce overseas bed and breakfast accommodations in a few months. It will also build on its services, including a so-called “one click to stay” function that matches travelers with hosts within a minute, on average. Additionally, Muniao will classify its resources into four levels to ensure that travelers with higher expectations are not disappointed.

According to CTCNN, a Chinese media outlet focusing on travel industry finance, there was a market of RMB 114.1 billion (USD 17.6 billion) in online accommodation booking last year, a YoY increase of 35.1%.


Originally published at cn.allchinatech.com on April 19, 2016.

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