Belong Anywhere: A Casual Chat With Robin Kwok, Airbnb's Country Manager for SEA

Belong Anywhere: A Casual Chat With Robin Kwok, Airbnb’s Country Manager for SEA

The Peak meets with Robin Kwok, Airbnb Country Manager for Southeast Asia, to discuss the company’s latest developments.

Next year marks the 10th anniversary of Airbnb, the American home rental platform that was founded in 2008 by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk. Available in over 190 countries and valued at USD30 billion, Airbnb has recently decided to expand its focus on providing services that encourage travelers from all walks of life to explore the world.

Nobody understands this better than Robin Kwok, Airbnb’s Country Manager for SEA. Kwok’s role involves driving business operations and strategic initiatives in the Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan which are some of the region’s fast-growing markets and plays a strategic role for the growth of the company.

“I signed up for Airbnb in 2012, but it was only in 2014 that I really started using the app. I remember this really great experience where I had travelled with my sister and her friend to Puerto Rico on a whim during peak season. We couldn’t find a suitable place to stay, so I decided to check Airbnb and found a place located outside San Juan on an island.”

According to Kwok, the group would later discover that the accommodations were actually tents that had been set up on the beach. “Initially, I felt a bit nervous but our host was so gracious. Not only did she show us how spacious and new the tents were, but she also thought about little details such as providing toiletry kits and a padlock for the entrance, which helped in making us feel more secure. I slept really well on the first night, and even decided to extend my trip to an additional seven days!”

Kwok would also discover that the host had actually signed on with Airbnb as a way to earn some extra money to pay for her tuition fees. “This made me realise that Airbnb is doing so much more than just providing homes; it’s actually helping these hosts to generate supplemental income.”

It was from this particular experience that convinced Kwok to apply for a job at Airbnb. “It has been  so exciting because you’re always learning something new. With the way the company is growing, what we want is to continually improve the experience for both our hosts and guests. We’ve also noticed that people — regardless of their age, economic background or interests — are all seeking experiences. They want to travel and to enjoy the intangible moments by connecting with locals and feeling inspired, creative and empowered. In fact, 86 per cent of our users have stated that the main reason they choose to use Airbnb is because they want to live like a local.”

As Kwok explains, it is because of this that Airbnb has decided to expand on its main business model by launching two additional new businesses. “The first is ‘Trips’ which provides an end-to-end experience for all of our users. The second is ‘Experiences’ where hosts who specialize in a certain craft, profession or hobby can craft experiences to share with their guests. Currently, we have over 800 experiences available across the globe while in Asia, you can find it in places such as Bangkok, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh, Sydney, Shanghai, Delhi, Tokyo and Seoul.”

According to Kwok, Southeast Asia is a fast-growing not just for Airbnb but other travel companies as well. “Malaysia is one of the top markets that is growing really fast and the people here are some of the most well traveled. Since 2016, the number of outbound users travelling from Malaysia has grown by 170 per cent which is huge and a lot higher compared to other countries. As for inbound users, many of them travel to places such as  Langkawi which is very popular among families, large groups and even solo travellers. KL and Penang remain steadfast cities, but searches for Ipoh, Lumut, Cameron Highlands and Port Dickson are also trending. At Airbnb, we like to observe the neighbourhoods that are really trending, the ones which are the most commonly searched for and booked. Surprisingly, Kampung Baru is one of the top trending neighbourhoods around the world at almost 1000 per cent. It’s like a village within a city, with very unique homes that aren’t offered in other areas.”

For Kwok, it all really boils down to what users are looking for in their experience that will compel them to share with other Airbnb users. “That’s what I find to be really unique about Airbnb, because we are able to showcase these places that would normally be overlooked. Asia is not homogenous, but some people still don’t really understand this. So, what we’d like to do with these new developments is to show the unique differences within each individual city or village.”

Founded in 2008, Airbnb’s mission is to create a world where people can belong when they travel by being connected to local cultures and having unique travel experiences. Its community marketplace provides access to millions of unique accommodations from apartments and villas to castles and treehouses in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries. For more information, visit

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