Airbnb pulls out plan to offer lodging at Great Wall of China after uproar

Airbnb offered overnight lodging in September for one Airbnb user and a companion in a "room" transformed from a torch tower on the Great Wall, but faced an online backlash from people worried that it could damage the site.
Airbnb offered overnight lodging in September for one Airbnb user and a companion in a "room" transformed from a torch tower on the Great Wall, but faced an online backlash from people worried that it could damage the site.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Home rental website Airbnb has scrapped a contest offering a chance to spend the night at a section of the Great Wall of China, after an online backlash from people worried it could damage the site.

News of the “Night At The Great Wall” contest lit up Chinese social media, with critics calling it a publicity stunt that lacked respect for the ancient monument.

“No matter how they dress it up, this doesn’t hide the fact that this contest is by a private company that will undeniably cause damage to an ancient artefact,” one person wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

Officials from the Yanqing district – home to the section of the Great Wall that was to host the sleepover – said in a statement that they had not been notified about the event and that no approval was given.

“We have made the decision to not move forward with this event and instead we are working on a range of other experiences and initiatives that showcase China as a destination,” Airbnb said on Tuesday.

Launched last week, the contest invited users to write about breaking down cultural barriers and building new connections.

Four winners would get the chance to spend the night in a customised bedroom built in an ancient watchtower of the wall, which

Airbnb said was done in consultation with conservation experts so that “not a single nail” of the Wall would need to be moved.

“This unprecedented level of access will showcase the Great Wall to the world and promote sustainable tourism to China by spotlighting wide ranging efforts to preserve the Wall’s deep heritage and bring Chinese culture to life,” the contest site said.

Airbnb has run similar competitions for the Catacombs in Paris, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Abbey Road Studios in London.

More than 8.6 million Chinese tourists have used Airbnb and the company has about 150,000 room listings in China. However, it is facing stiff competition from local rivals such as Tujia and Xiaozhu, which have flourished in the absence of official government regulations surrounding the fast-growing sector.