AirBnB’s folly in China

This story proves how extremely important it is for customers of ANY size to consider proper localization when doing translations, or in this case, translating just a single name. (See previous article: What is a Quality Translation?).

2017-03-28 13_43_46-businessman made error.jpg ‎- PhotosIn the vacation lodging industry, AirBnB is one of the largest online marketplaces in the world.  It started in 2008 and is based in San Francisco, CA (USA).  It is a well-known company and has received a lot of fanfare since its inception due to its revolutionary model that became a disruptive force in the lodging and vacation rental industry.

In Aug 2015, AirBnB entered the Chinese market.  In March 2017, they announced their new Chinese name for localization.  The new name, “Aibiying”(爱彼迎), which equates to “welcome each other with love”, was revealed by CEO Brian Chesky at a press conference in Shanghai.  Unfortunately for the company, the new name was widely met with disdain and ridicule. Users on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) commented that the name sounded awkward, was not easy to understand and even sounded like a firm selling items in – let’s just say an adult-type of industry.  Other critics said it sounded like “I love Bing” (Microsoft’s search engine’s Chinese name is “Biying – see“).

If you strongly believe that “any publicity is good publicity”, then AirBnB scored a home-run. However, in more sobering business terms, AirBnB has an image and marketing challenge on their hands.  It will be interesting to see if they persist past this phase until their “Aibiying” becomes widely accepted or takes on the very expensive task of choosing a new name and the marketing that comes with this option.  It is hard to say how much vetting took place with this new name, but from the results, one can assume the name wasn’t vetted in the proper circles.  AirBnB is hardly alone, many companies of all sizes have had similar follies – not just in single names, but also in entire communications that were not localized or translated properly.

The bottom line is this: unless they don’t care about the outcome (highly unlikely), businesses should always use a professional translations firm to ensure accuracy and context within the local language and culture.  Sometimes, as in the case of AirBnB, a single word can cause a massive image problem or something worse (lawsuits, loss of market share, etc.).


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