Airbnb's China chief resigns after just 4 months

Mr Siew Kum Hong runs Airbnb's business in the rest of the Asia-Pacific.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, who announced the departure of Mr Ge Hong on Saturday, had renamed the home-sharing service Aibiying in China and pledged to double investment in the country.PHOTO: REUTERS
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, who announced the departure of Mr Ge Hong on Saturday, had renamed the home-sharing service Aibiying in China and pledged to double investment in the country.
Airbnb’s China head Ge Hong did not elaborate on his reasons for leaving the firm.
Airbnb's China head Ge Hong did not elaborate on his reasons for leaving the firm.
Mr Siew Kum Hong runs Airbnb’s business in the rest of the Asia-Pacific.

Move reflects struggles in China that home-sharing giant faces

SAN FRANCISCO • In a blow to Airbnb, the head of the company's China business has left, just four months after taking the job.

Mr Ge Hong, a former software engineer at Facebook and Google, told colleagues he was leaving for another opportunity.

His departure reflects the struggles Airbnb faces in China, where protectionist laws and fierce competitors have long humbled tech giants such as Uber Technologies.

Just this month, the government forced Airbnb and other home-sharing companies to cancel bookings in Beijing's city centre in the lead-up to the Communist Party Congress.

Airbnb has long regarded building a brand in China as vital, as affluent millennials travel more than ever. It spent years raising money and preparing the groundwork to tackle local rivals Xiaozhu and Tujia, which just raised US$300 million (S$409 million).

While the company has offered properties there since 2013, chief executive officer Brian Chesky this year renamed the service Aibiying in China and pledged to double investment in the country. It now complies with controversial laws that give the local authorities access to users' information.

In an e-mail sent to his colleagues, Mr Ge didn't elaborate on his reasons for leaving but reflected extensively on Airbnb's breakneck pace of expansion in past months.

Its staff has grown from 30 to more than 120 in Beijing, while total listings have doubled to 140,000 from a year ago. 

Mr Ge also pointed out that his team reduced instances of fraud - from over 8 per cent of gross bookings to less than 2 per cent.

"It's a very tough decision for me to leave behind all of what we have built together. But hey, it's a small world. I will still be in the Internet industry," he wrote. "I'm sure our paths will cross again in the future."

Airbnb had searched unsuccessfully since 2015 to recruit a business chief for China, before finally promoting Mr Ge from within.

On June 1, Mr Chesky said that Mr Ge would report directly to him. "This marks the end of what began as an external search for a China president," he wrote. "As we met with candidates, it became clear that the best person to lead China was already inside our building."

Mr Ge was well-regarded by other executives in the industry, including rivals, who saw him as a potent mix of local know-how and Western expertise.

On Saturday, Mr Chesky sent another e-mail, saying Mr Ge was stepping down. He also said Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk would take over as chairman for China, making monthly trips there.

FormerSingapore nominated MP Siew Kum Hong, who runs Airbnb's business in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, will now play a more prominent role, though his portfolio is becoming unwieldy. He is the deputy general counsel for the Asia-Pacific, the head of business for the region, and now the steward of the company's operations in China.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Airbnb's China chief resigns after just 4 months'. Print Edition | Subscribe