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新经济也可以在旧体制里腾飞|Airbnb在古巴

Erin Griffith 2016年12月05日

作为美国新经济代表的民宿分享初创公司Airnbn,是如何跟堪称共产主义堡垒的古巴走在一起的?

 

布瑞恩•切斯基和莱斯特•霍尔特是这条街上最干净的生灵。他们身上的牛津衫整洁如新,在热浪中闪闪发光。两人正沿着一条破烂的哈瓦那人行道散步,空气中弥漫着海洋空气和汽油混杂在一起的味道。切斯基是房屋共享初创公司Airbnb联合创始人兼首席执行官,霍尔特则是NBC电视台主播。围绕在他们周围的一切,无论是1957年版的雪佛兰Bel Airs轿车,自行人力车,还是几只在泥土中翻滚,拉屎的流浪狗,都覆盖着一层灰尘。在其他任何地方,如果一个摄制组追拍两位看上去属于游艇阶层的精英人士,那恐怕会招致一大群围观者。但那些从窗子探出身子,或者倚靠在门旁的古巴男女们,似乎没有注意到这一幕。在街区的那一边,有个人正在播放劲爆的舞曲。

切斯基提醒霍尔特的摄制组,要拍下在几户房屋前展示的颠倒的锚标识。“这些都是Airbnb的房屋。”他说。从性质上讲,它们仍属于“私人住宅”(casas particulares),是古巴房屋租赁网络的组成部分,由此成为潜在的Airbnb房源。但这些现成的房源,外加早已到位的监管法规、登记系统和税收政策,使得Airbnb很容易在2015年美国放松旅游限制之际,启动其古巴业务。古巴估计有2万套私宅,其中大约4000套已经与Airbnb签约,1.3万名美国游客早早地预定了这些房屋,从而使得古巴成为Airbnb启动以来增长最快的市场。

Brian Chesky and Lester Holt are the cleanest things on this street. Their crisp oxford shirts gleam in the heat as they stroll along a crumbling Havana sidewalk, the smell of gasoline mingling with ocean air. Everything surrounding Chesky, the CEO and co-founder of home-sharing startup Airbnb, and Holt, an NBC anchor, is covered in a layer of dust­—the ’57 Chevy Bel Airs, the frankensteined bicycle rickshaws, the stray dogs rolling in mud or poop. Anywhere else, a camera crew following two guys that look like they belong on a yacht might draw a crowd of onlookers. But the Cuban men and women leaning out of their windows and doors barely acknowledge the action. Down the block, someone is blasting dance music.

Chesky alerts Holt’s camera crew to the upside-down anchor symbols displayed in front of several homes. “All of these are Airbnbs,” he says. Technically they are casas particulares, part of Cuba’s home-rental network, which makes them potential Airbnbs. But the casas’ ready-made supply, with regulations, registries, and taxes in place, made it easy for Airbnb to launch in Cuba when the U.S. loosened its travel restrictions in 2015. About 4,000 of Cuba’s estimated 20,000 casas particulares have signed up with Airbnb, and 13,000 Americans have booked rooms—making Cuba the fastest-growing market Airbnb has ever launched.

哈瓦那市中心的街景为Airbnb公司联合创始人兼CEO布瑞恩•切斯基时常批评的那种大众旅游提供了一种替代方案。

当然,在古巴,你只能从相对意义上来理解“容易”和“快速”这类词汇。美国长达56年的对古巴贸易禁运给Airbnb带来了障碍。值得指出的是,大多数古巴人无法直接上网,也没有途径来接受一家美国公司的付款。(不要忘记,古巴的自来水、食物和交通都极其不可靠,特别是当日益增多的美国游客让这个岛国有限的资源更加捉襟见肘的时候。)

古巴拥有1100万人口,每年只有350万游客。对于Airbnb来说,与巴西或墨西哥等国家相比,古巴是一个小得多的市场机会。但Airbnb的承诺是,你可以去任何地方——呃,从严格意义上说,不是世界上所有地方(比如,克里米亚、伊朗、苏丹、叙利亚和朝鲜就不包括在内),但非常接近——享受宾至如归的感觉。所以,这家公司已将古巴作为一个优先开发的市场,并设法越过法律和旅游签证方面的重重关卡,建立旨在克服网络接入难题的软件,最终将古巴私宅的房主们揽入Airbnb的怀抱。

这个决定最终带来一场无与伦比的公关胜利。切斯基在今年春天访问古巴之际,恰逢奥巴马总统对该国展开历史性访问;在那里,总统大肆吹嘘Airbnb的255亿美元估值,并称赞切斯基是美国“杰出的年轻企业家之一”。这一时刻与Airbnb在美国本土陷入的监管战争形成鲜明对比:纽约州总检察长声称,在纽约市的Airbnb房源中,有多达四分之三是非法的,旧金山已经对Airbnb开征新税,并敦促其关闭非住宅类房源。

但在古巴,Airbnb需要绕过很多温暖的模糊地带。在整个行程中,切斯基一直将古巴主人和美国客人之间的互动称为“民间外交”。这种叙述使得Airbnb游客可以轻松地遵守美国“民间”教育旅行签证的要求。

Of course, “easy” and “fast” are relative terms in Cuba. The strict Communist regime and 56 years of a U.S. trade embargo have created obstacles for Airbnb, notably that most Cubans don’t have direct Internet access or a way to accept payments from an American company. (Never mind that access to running water, food, and transportation can be unreliable, especially as increased tourism from the U.S. strains the island’s limited resources.)

With 11 million people and just 3.5 million visitors a year, Cuba is a much smaller opportunity for Airbnb than, say, Brazil or Mexico. But Airbnb’s promise is that you can go anywhere—well, not anywhere anywhere (Crimea, Iran, Sudan, Syria, and North Korea are out), but close—and feel at home. So the company has made Cuba a priority, jumping through legal and travel-visa hoops, building software work-arounds for web access, and bringing casas particulares owners into the Airbnb fold.

The decision has been a public relations victory. Chesky’s trip to Cuba this spring coincides with President Obama’s historic visit; there, the President brags about Airbnb’s $25.5 billion valuation and calls Chesky one of America’s “outstanding young entrepreneurs.” The moment stands in contrast to Airbnb’s home-turf regulatory battles: New York’s attorney general has said three-quarters of its New York City listings are illegal, while San Francisco has pinched Airbnb with new taxes and pressure to shutter nonresidential listings.

But in Cuba there are plenty of warm fuzzies to go around. Throughout the trip, Chesky describes interactions between Cuban hosts and American guests as “person-to-person diplomacy.” That narrative allows Airbnb travelers to handily comply with the U.S.’s “people-to-people” educational travel visa requirement.

这是哈瓦那一个名为La Rosa de Ortega的Airbnb房源的卧室。
 

Airbnb正在帮助古巴人成为小企业家:房东每出租一次房屋,平均可赚得250美元。对于人均月收入仅为23美元的古巴人来说,这是一个极具意义的数字。

这一部分完美地契合奥巴马总统向古巴人民宣扬的美国梦。在一家啤酒酿造厂,他对一群古巴企业家和商界人士说,“正如我们在美国所看到的那样,一些出身卑微的企业(有的甚至诞生自一间车库)也有机会成为世界上最成功的公司。”

切斯基最喜欢这个国家的地方在于,它是如此真实。“它正是你想象的模样。”当他在哈瓦那游览一些油漆脱落的殖民时代建筑时,这位Airbnb首席执行官如是惊叹道。“每当你看到一个地方的图片,然后实地游览,你会发现,它根本就不是图片中的样子,或者只有一条街道看上去跟图片类似。”

真实性,恰恰是Airbnb最看重的东西。切斯基憎恨大众旅游——时代广场、麦当劳和阿甘虾餐厅是他最喜欢引用的例子。在他看来,Airbnb的200万套房源可以让旅游者避免掉入坑人的陷阱。“我们希望给你创造一种仿佛居住在社区的感觉,哪怕只是小住几天。”他说。为了反映这种观点,他还特意对Airbnb的网站进行了一些细微的修改。比如,他把一个注册按钮上的措辞从“列出你的房源”改为“成为一位房东。”本周,该公司推出了一个名为“住在那里”(Live There)的新举措,它将提供由房东亲手创建的城市指南。切斯基表示,那些仅仅将Airbnb描述为一种租房方式的文章,确实搞错了。“我们从事的,是一项远比这种说法更加深刻的事业。”他说。

我问切斯基,有没有人把他称为嬉皮士。他说自己也许有一点这种特质,并提醒我说,他从事这行真的不是为了赚得亿万身家。我问他,金钱是否腐蚀了Airbnb的利他使命。他迅速驳斥了这种看法,并建议我聆听他的创业伙伴发表的一篇题为“带有同情心的商业”的TED演讲。后来,在一个汇聚当地Airbnb房东的聚会上,我确实听到有人称他是嬉皮士。

一如我在无数次访问古巴私人住宅期间的亲身感受,一旦你置身现场,你很难驳斥Airbnb的理想主义情怀。几乎每位房东都会热情洋溢地谈论他们经历的转变。在约雷蒂和奥克塔维奥夫妇的公寓,切斯基给一面墙贴上Airbnb的标志,一个三角形的环状饰物。

“我太激动了。”当切斯基在她家的墙壁上留言时,女主人约雷蒂无法自持。“我要哭了!”后来,她将切斯基的留言照片上传至她的Airbnb房源简介。

And Airbnb is helping Cubans become mini-entrepreneurs: The average host makes $250 per booking, a meaningful sum when the average Cuban salary is $23 a month.

That part fits neatly into the President’s promotion of the American Dream to the Cuban people. “As we’ve seen in America, businesses that start small—even in a garage—can grow into some of the world’s most successful companies,” the President says to a beer brewery full of Cuban entrepreneurs and business people.

What Chesky loves most about the country, he says, is that it’s so authentic. “This is exactly what you’d think it is,” he marvels as he takes in Havana’s paint-chipped colonial buildings. “Whenever you see a picture of a place and then you actually go there, it never looks like the picture, or only one street looks like that.”

Authenticity is Airbnb’s thing. Chesky hates mass tourism—Times Square, McDonald’s , and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. are his favorite examples—and sees Airbnb’s 2 million listings as a sort of anti–tourist trap. “We’re about allowing you to feel like you live in a community, even if it’s just for a few days,” he says. He’s made subtle revisions to Airbnb’s site to reflect that view, like changing the wording on a sign-up button from “List your space” to “Become a host.” This week the company introduced a new initiative called “Live There,” which will provide city guides created by its hosts. Articles that describe Airbnb as just a way to rent a room get it wrong, he says: “It’s about something much deeper.”

I ask if anyone has ever called Chesky a hippie. Maybe a little bit, he says, reminding me that he didn’t get into this business to get rich. When I ask whether money taints Airbnb’s altruistic mission, he dismisses the idea and directs me to his co-founder’s TED Talk about “commerce with compassion.” Later, at a party for local Airbnb hosts, I overhear him brag that someone just called him a hippie.

It’s hard to dismiss Airbnb’s idealism once you see it in action, as I do during numerous visits to casas particulares. Almost across the board, the hosts are effusive about the transformations they’re going through. At the apartment of Yuleidi and Octavio, Chesky tags a wall with Airbnb’s logo, a triangular loop that the company has christened “Bélo” and is meant to be a sort of hobo code for “universal belonging.” (The logo caught some ridicule when it was introduced in 2014, inspiring headlines like, “Is it balls, vagina or both?”

“I have goose bumps,” Yuleidi gushes as Chesky scrawls on her wall. “I’m going to cry!” Later, she uploads a photo of his message to her Airbnb listing.

切斯基(居中者)与一对哈瓦那房东夫妇在一面写满Airbnb客人签名的墙壁前合影留念。

我们遇到的下一位房东真的哭了。在她的殖民时代联排别墅,前刑事律师雷萨坐在一张明蓝色天鹅绒沙发上解释说,成为一位Airbnb房东让她得以保留这栋她本打算出售的房屋,并养育她的孩子们。只有一个问题:她不得不拒绝来自非美国人的预订请求,因为在古巴,Airbnb只对美国人开放。

切斯基通过一位翻译告诉雷萨,这条规则即将改变。听闻这一消息,雷萨顿时激动万分。“太棒了!我太高兴了!”喜悦的泪水模糊了她的脸庞。Airbnb的公关代表也热泪盈眶。有人递给雷萨一张纸巾。她说,Airbnb已经赋予她一种强大的力量,好像为她打开了一本原本藏匿在某个角落的书。

“哇,这真是令人难以置信。”切斯基说。但令他深受触动的,是另一件事:他念兹在兹的是雷萨拒绝的那些预订请求。“我还一直纳闷为什么转换率这么低呢。”他说。

在整个谈话期间,切斯基不停地在自己的手机上记录着什么。他后来在奥巴马的企业家峰会上、在白宫记者团的通报会上,在电视采访中频频提及雷萨的眼泪。或许很难判断这场公共活动终于何处,Airbnb的使命始于何处,但在某种程度上,这并不重要。这家公司点燃了房东们的热情,因为Airbnb已经对他们的生活产生了重大影响。我特别好奇的是,Airbnb是否也给房东们分发了一份跟我们这些随访记者完全相同的采访脚本。切斯基说,这绝无可能。“他们说的比脚本还动人!” (财富中文网)

译者:Kevin

The next host we meet actually does cry. Sitting on a bright blue velvet couch in her colonial townhouse, Reysa, a former criminal lawyer, explains that becoming an Airbnb host has allowed her to keep her home—she was about to sell it—and support her children. There’s just one problem: She has to reject booking requests from non-Americans, since in Cuba, Airbnb is open only to Americans.

Chesky tells Reysa, through a translator, that that rule is about to change, and the news overwhelms Reysa. “Qué bien! Muy feliz!” Tears of joy stream down her face, and Airbnb’s PR reps well up too. Someone hands Reysa a tissue. She says Airbnb has empowered her: It’s as if a book was kept in a hidden place, and Airbnb opened it for her.

“Wow,” Chesky says. “This is unbelievable.” Though what’s moving us isn’t what’s moving him; he’s got Reysa’s rejected bookings on his mind. “I was wondering why the conversion rate was so low,” he says.

Throughout the conversation, Chesky takes notes on his phone. He later references Reysa’s tears at Obama’s entrepreneurship summit, at a White House press corps briefing, and in TV interviews. It can be hard to tell where the PR operation ends and Airbnb’s mission begins, but on some level, it doesn’t matter. The company ignites zealous enthusiasm from hosts because it has had a big impact on their lives. I wonder aloud whether Airbnb gives hosts a script for media tours like mine. Chesky says that’s not possible. “What they said is better than the script!”

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