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Airbnb’s India business almost at pre-Covid levels: Blecharczyk

Airbnb's India business is almost back to pre-pandemic levels and the recovery has been very robust, says cofounder and chief strategy officer Nate Blecharczyk. In an interview with ET’s Vinod Mahanta, Blecharczyk discusses the bounce back in travel and tourism, helping Ukrainians during the conflict and its future transformation into an end-to-end travel platform. Edited excerpts:

By when do you expect Airbnb India's business to meet pre-pandemic numbers?

In 2021, we almost met our 2019 numbers. So, we're almost back to where we left off. Additionally, we saw that domestic stays within India in rural areas in Q3 of 2021 were double that of the same period in 2019. This is a shift we've seen in many countries during the pandemic. People have been travelling within their own country, going to places, particularly rural areas they might not have been to before. In the past year, travellers on Airbnb travelled to 6,000 new cities and towns that before no one on Airbnb had ever been to. As international travel reopens, that too will be a big opportunity.

Is Airbnb going to invest more in India?

We will be opening a technology hub in Bengaluru. We are very excited to be part of the Bengaluru tech ecosystem. We hope to hire more than 100 high-tech employees in the near future. We have always wanted to bring our culture of innovation to the Bengaluru ecosystem. I think this is going to be very important as we serve India. We will soon see a tourism rebound in India, and we look forward to partnering with local governments across the country. The centre will help us and our local teams to better localise Airbnb in their markets.

There is a race among various travel and tourism-related platforms to be an end-to-end service provider for travellers. Where do you stand in that journey?

It's certainly something that we aspire towards, and we had a lot of different projects going on before the pandemic. Now the pandemic has caused us to think carefully about what’s most important to us. Right now, obviously, the pandemic has hit us hard. We saw our revenue drop 80% in a span of two weeks, and we had to make some trade-offs. We couldn't do the same things we've been doing before. And that’s when we decided to double down on what makes us different, which is the fact that we have hosts. We have ordinary people who are providing exceptional hospitality. Whether it's sharing their homes, offering experiences, or giving recommendations.

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