Multinational technology companies in India aren’t fence sitters. Amazon’s got a good hold on e-commerce and web services. WhatsApp on chat and now, financial technology. Tinder on dating. Google on local search, payments and a bundle of other services. Facebook on digital advertising and on fake news.  

There’s one category, however, where outsiders have had little success in displacing indigenous incumbents. Travel.

From the looks of it, there’s nothing stopping Oyo. Not money. Not ambition. The homegrown company, MakeMyTrip isn’t a pushover either. After acquiring Ibibo in 2016, it is India’s largest online travel agency (OTA); and hotels & accommodation is increasingly becoming a significant part of its business.

Compared to them, international companies have had little success. hasn’t really set the market on fire. Neither has Airbnb, the global homestays company with a $31 billion valuation, which has been in India for six years now.

Much of Airbnb’s existence in the country can be summed up in one word—promise.

Promise that, by now, Airbnb would have revolutionised the homestays business in the country, but hasn’t.

Take its global product Experiences, for example. In 2017, Airbnb’s CEO and founder Brian Chesky flew to India to be part of the launch of Experiences in the country. He even participated in the company’s first curated experience—a fashion show titled “Journey of Couture” in association with Delhi-based designer duo Shantanu-Nikhil—where he walked the ramp.

The idea of Experiences is not just to help people with stay but to make travel a transformative experience by allowing them to discover communities and their passions. As part of Journey of Couture, participants were given a peek into the designers’ studio, met artisans, and learnt what goes on behind the scenes at a fashion show. It was meant to be the start of something big in the country. After all, in an interview with Fortune magazine late last year, Chesky said that the Experiences business was growing 13 times faster than Airbnb’s homes business.

India vs. China

The combined revenue of both of Airbnb’s India entities is under $8 million. Meanwhile, in China, the company expects its FY18 revenue to touch $130 million

However, while the number of Experiences globally has swelled to around 20,000 in the last few years, it stands at just 100 in India. Sources in the travel industry say the initiative hasn’t really been able to build momentum in the country, pointing to glaring shortcomings like how Kolkata, for example, doesn’t have any listed experiences despite being famous for its rich history and culture.

While pricing is said to have played a part in Experiences’ slow growth in India, its limited success is emblematic of Airbnb’s journey in the country.



Vandana is based in Delhi. She covers vertically focussed startups in consumer internet space and also writes on travel tech and smartphones for The Ken. She has spent 13 years in journalism covering a wide range of subjects- equity markets, mutual funds to education and skilling, working at organisations such as Business Standard, CNBC TV18 and The Week in the past.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at detailing the error or queries.