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Airbnb’s Great Wall “Glamping” Competition Cancelled After Backlash

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Update: Surprise, surprise — the whole thing has been cancelled. Completing a classic China narrative arc from initial excitement and international headlines, to inevitable backlash, and finally government denial, Airbnb announced:

“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 and highlight how people-to-people travel can drive human connections.”

Despite the claim that the decision was their own, numerous Chinese media reports have stated that the relevant authorities in Beijing’s Yanqing district (where the stay was to be located) were “unaware” of the project, leading swiftly to its cancellation.

You can read our original story on the initiative and the resultant furore below:

Airbnb have announced that they are running a competition for eight people to spend the night on the Great Wall of China:

Airbnb is proud to open one of the greatest architectural feats in human history for its first-ever sleepover. Four lucky winners and their chosen guests will have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to stay the night in a custom-designed home situated on the ancient Great Wall.

The experience is set to feature a gourmet meal and calligraphy lessons, while to be in with a chance of winning entrants have to write an essay based on the following prompt:

Why is it more important now than ever to break down barriers between cultures? How would you want to build new connections?

Seems like a pretty strong marketing move. And sure enough, the initial response in English-language media was almost universally positive:

https://twitter.com/highsnobiety/status/1026584973548118018

But then, somewhat inevitably, the haters started to weigh in.

In the competition description, Airbnb state that “it’s part of your duty to help preserve and protect its cultural heritage” (even if that mainly seems to be by Instagramming it), but some users quickly took to Weibo to voice concern over what this might do to a landmark that already hosts music festivals, trail runs, and horribly tacky tourist experiences at various sections.

A Weibo user complains that the Great Wall is a “cultural treasure” and should be protected. Airbnb say they agree

This in turn led to headlines such as the SCMP’s “Airbnb’s Great Wall of China competition upsets Chinese social media users”.

But any controversy here feels a little overblown. Claims that this is a cultural heritage protection exercise seem dubious of course, but some sections of the Great Wall fell victim to commercialization quite some time ago. This initiative appears to be happening in collaboration with the authorities looking after the Badaling area, which is easily one of the most touristy — ask anyone in Beijing and they’ll give you alternative recommendations to see the “real” or “wild” sections of the Wall instead.

The negative commenters also seem to overlook (or are unaware of) the fact that people have been sneaking up to sleep on the Great Wall for years. There are numerous guesthouses nearby certain sections, and creeping up with a sleeping bag to spend a night under the stars on one of the Seven Wonders of the World is far from unheard of.

And that’s leaving aside the fact that this thing was literally built for dudes to sleep on it every night and light fires in case any invaders came through.

Admittedly, those experiences aren’t quite as luxe as what Airbnb are offering however. And despite a few people voicing their “disgust” on social media (never a difficult thing to dig up), it seems like there are also plenty of users prepping their applications.

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RADII Staff