Airbnb announces Korea launch

KOREA - The online accommodation information service Airbnb announced its official service launch in Korea on Tuesday, as part of its expansion plan in Northeast Asia.

The peer-to-peer service matches spare rooms at homes of local residents and tourists looking for accommodation.

The business model has received much attention as an example of the "sharing economy."

At the press conference held on the day, cofounder and chief product officer Joe Gebbia said Korea was growing faster than any other Asian market in its accommodation information sharing service.

"The sharing economy has had incredible momentum in South Korea. Over the last year, we have seen 758 per cent growth here," said Gebbia.

Airbnb has been providing Korean-language service on its website and seen an increase in both the number of Korean tourists staying in popular destinations around the world and foreign visitors coming to Korea since 2012.

"Koreans booked more than 50,000 nights of travel on Airbnb to places including New York, Paris, London and Hong Kong. Airbnb has more than 900 listings in Korea and Koreans added 725 listings during the last year," said Gebbia.

To support the rapid growth in Korea, Airbnb has appointed Ole Ruch as the Asia-Pacific regional director, and Alan Chang as managing director for Northeast Asia.

The beginning of the service was at Gebbia's apartment in San Francisco in 2007.

"My roommates and I quit our jobs to become entrepreneurs and as we quit our jobs, the rent went up. It was US$3,000(S$3,713) a month. There was a conference in the city and the hotels were all sold out, and nobody had places to stay except our apartment. We rented out extra spaces in the apartment and hosted three people, and made enough money for the apartment," said Gebbia.

People in 34,502 cities and 192 countries now list their extra rooms on the Airbnb website, which finds places for tourists when they type in their destination and period of stay.

Recently, it proved to be a service not only for travelers, but also for those stranded by Hurricane Sandy last October in New York.

"The hosts of Airbnb opened their doors to help those displaced by Hurricane Sandy. Over 1,200 hosts donated their rooms to them," said Gebbia.

"This shows a great example of the power of community in the sharing economy, and I hope Airbnb's expansion into Korea will help to further strengthen the sharing economy in Korea," he added.

Those willing to open their space to others can list their information on the Airbnb site ( Commission for the arrangement is set at 3 per cent per booking for the hosts.

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