Airbnb wanted to let people “call the Great Wall of China home” for a night, but China had other ideas.
Last week, the home-sharing service invited people from 11 countries to write an essay about why it is more important than ever to break down barriers between cultures, and said four winners, and their plus-ones, would get to stay on the wall. Airbnb said it was working with a state-owned tourism agency for the project, which it described as the “first-ever sleepover” at one of humanity’s greatest architectural achievements.
The night was to involve a stay in a “custom-designed” home on the wall, a military barrier that was built over hundreds of years, starting more than 2,000 years ago. “Upon arrival, you and your friends will take a short hike to your one-of-a-kind bedroom on the wall. Once you’re settled into your new home and the sun begins to set, you’ll enjoy an intimate, multi-course gourmet dinner prepared just for you. Each course of this meal serves to represent a different aspect of Chinese culture and the culinary traditions of its people. Consider it a historic (delicious) lesson in the Great Wall’s history,” wrote Airbnb.
Unfortunately, it seems to have left out some authorities when cooking up the plan. On Monday (August 6), the cultural department that manages the Great Wall’s Badaling section, where Airbnb planned to hold the event, said it hadn’t received an application for or approved a “residential lodging event,” according to (link in Chinese) a statement. It also said that an event like that wouldn’t fit with its historical preservation approach for the Great Wall but didn’t mention Airbnb in its statement.
Late Tuesday (August 7), Airbnb said it was canceling the event: “We were excited to promote the Great Wall and Chinese cultural heritage with our Night At The Great Wall and while there was an agreement in place that was the basis for the announcement of this event, we deeply respect the feedback we have received. We have made the decision to not move forward with this event.”
It’s a slightly embarrassing setback in an important market for Airbnb, which saw its listings in China more than double last year, and logged more than 3.3 million guests. The firm faces competition from local rivals as well as some regulatory issues, given Chinese rules governing foreign visitors to the country. As part of its efforts to appeal to local users, the firm chose a Chinese name last year, and agreed this year to provide foreign traveler passport information to local authorities to comply with Chinese regulations.
Sometimes knocking down cultural—and regulatory—barriers is hard.