Oswald Chan

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

Ac­cord­ing to PwC, Airbnb ac­com­mo­dates more than 155 mil­lion guest stays an­nu­ally, nearly 22 per­cent more than Hil­ton World­wide, which served 127 mil­lion guests in 2014. The app is re­port­edly val­ued at $13 bil­lion, more than ma­ture hos­pi­tal­ity play­ers such as Hy­att or Wyn­d­ham World­wide.

“I vis­ited Syd­ney (Aus­tralia) for a week­long per­sonal trip. I de­cided to use the Airbnb app to see what kind of per­sonal ac­com­mo­da­tions I could get. In an in­stant, I got four se­lec­tion choices af­ter utiliz­ing the app. Ef­fi­ciency is what at­tracted me to the app,” Ng said in re­count­ing his Airbnb ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Then I de­cided to take one of the ac­com­mo­da­tions of­fered. Later I found out that the home­owner is a Hong Kong im­mi­grant liv­ing in Aus­tralia for more than 20 years. He spoke flu­ent Can­tonese and we chat­ted over many mat­ters.”

“At the end of the trip, the home­owner told me he could sug­gest out­door ac­tiv­i­ties suit­able for my son if we vis­ited Syd­ney again. This re­ally im­pressed me. I think the shar­ing process can elicit more per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions that we both cher­ish.”

A con­flu­ence of tech­no­log­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic fac­tors ex­plains the emer­gence of the shar­ing econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by in­ter­na­tional re­search con­sul­tancy firm Lat­i­tude.

The rise of In­ter­net tech­nol­ogy, along with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of so­cial, mo­bile, an­a­lyt­ics and cloud com­put­ing pro­vides un­prece­dented easy ac­cess to items that can be po­ten­tially hired, or bor­rowed. Tech­nol­ogy giants such as Ama­zon, eBay, Google, Ap­ple and PayPal also play a crit­i­cal role in build­ing large-scale shar­ing com­mu­ni­ties and en­sur­ing a seam­less mon­e­tary trans­ac­tion flow to has­ten the de­vel­op­ment of the shar­ing econ­omy.

Oth­ers cite en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, high­light­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween shar­ing and sus­tain­abil­ity. Shar­ing is bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment. When peo­ple ex­change rather than buy, it down­sizes the man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses in­volved in goods pro­duc­tion, thereby re­duc­ing the de­ple­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process.

The frag­ile state of the global econ­omy over the past years has sparked height­ened aware­ness re­lated to pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions, stress­ing prac­ti­cal­ity over con­sump­tion. Lower-in­come house­holds are more likely to en­gage in shar­ing be­hav­iors be­cause house­holds can save money through rent­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey in July by the non-profit Hong Kong In­ter­net Reg­is­tra­tion Cor­po­ra­tion, nearly 30 per­cent of the 1,447 In­ter­net users in­ter­viewed took part in shar­ing ac­tiv­i­ties more than eight times a year. And a sig­nif­i­cant 82 per­cent were con­sumers of shar­ing econ­omy ac­tiv­i­ties, with car-shar­ing, crowd fund­ing and room/flat shar­ing be­ing the three top sec­tors.

In Hong Kong, many shar­ing econ­omy-based online plat­forms have emerged in re­cent days, boost­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the sec­tor.

For­mer re­search as­sis­tant El­liot Le­ung Wai-yu last Novem­ber launched a mo­bile app called Gai­fong, an on-de­mand por­tal for bor­row­ing and rent­ing con­sumer goods from peo­ple liv­ing nearby.

Af­ter four years of teach­ing and re­search in the fields of so­cial sciences and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, Le­ung de­vel­oped the con­vic­tion that peo­ple can get ev­ery­thing they need if they are will­ing to share, a re­al­iza­tion that led to the launch of Gai­fong.

Since its launch, the mo­bile app’s reg­is­tered mem­ber base has grown 10 times to 4,000 mem­bers in Hong Kong, with some 2,000 con­sumer items al­ready shared. Bouyed by its suc­cess, Gai­fong is think­ing of so­lic­it­ing an­gel in­vestors for fund­ing in the near fu­ture.

Lenders de­ter­mine the rent level, and Gai­fong deducts a day’s rent as com­mis­sion charge upon suc­cess­ful rental.

Bor­row­ers are also re­quired to pay a cash de­posit equal to 50 per­cent of the goods value as a safe­guard against un­fore­seen dam­ages.

“Our busi­ness val­ues are dif­fer­ent from the main­stream con­sumer cul­ture and there­fore we need to do a lot to change the cul­ture. We also have to lever­age on ex­ist­ing trust pro­files on var­i­ous so­cial media to build online com­mu­nity trust so that our ser­vices can make in­roads into the main­stream econ­omy,” Le­ung said.

WeCare, a stu­dent ser­vice group that pro­motes so­cial in­clu­sion in Hong Kong fo­cus­ing on do­mes­tic work­ers and eth­nic mi­nori­ties, bor­rowed cam­eras through Gai­fong to make a pho­tog­ra­phy course pos­si­ble. That was af­ter 20 en­thu­si­asts signed up for the course, but not all could buy or bor­row pro­fes­sional cam­eras.

Though the Gai­fong mo­bile app, WeCare could lend them pro­fes­sional cam­eras. Even some cam­eraown­ers who had orig­i­nally posted for rental deals ul­ti­mately lent those cam­eras to WeCare for free once they came to know that WeCare was a char­ity or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“I think both the users and own­ers ben­e­fit from this process. Peo­ple of­ten have some­thing they do not al­ways use — in this case the cam­eras — but these could be very use­ful to oth­ers and con­trib­ute to a greater cause,” said Lu­cia Liu Yu­jing, com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer at WeCare.

Carshare.hk, a startup aim­ing to fa­cil­i­tate car hir­ing from fel­low cit­i­zens, has con­nected 1,500 car own­ers and 18,000 renters since its launch in Novem­ber 2013. Their mo­bile app claims to fa­cil­i­tate more than 1,000 car rentals a month for HK$400 to HK$500 per day, and charges 30 per­cent com­mis­sion on each rental deal.

Af­ter col­lect­ing HK$5 mil­lion from an­gel in­vestors, the app launched in Shang­hai last year. The com­pany is con­sid­er­ing ven­tur­ing into Tai­wan and South­east Asian na­tions for scal­ing up the busi­ness. Carshare.hk has also ar­ranged a com­pre­hen­sive in­sur­ance pol­icy (in­volv­ing the renter, the car and any third party dam­ages) with Direc­tAsia that es­pe­cially cov­ers any in­ci­dent dur­ing the rental pe­riod. The com­pany re­quires car own­ers to in­stall a de­vice to cal­cu­late the mileage for in­sur­ance pur­poses.

Renters have to pay fuel charges and the in­sur­ance pre­mium apart from the hir­ing price. As for carown­ers, they have to pay HK$750 as de­vice in­stal­la­tion charges and they will re­ceive 70 per­cent of the rental price, the rest go­ing to Carshare.hk.

“As there are sev­eral oc­ca­sions when I do not drive my car for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time, shar­ing is a pretty good idea to fully uti­lize my as­set. Carshare gives me peace of mind, as I do not think shar­ing a car is ap­pro­pri­ate be­fore renters’ back­ground checks and in­sur­ance are set­tled,” said Kin­sen, a Toy­ota Pic­nic Deluxe owner who listed on the app.

But what if car-own­ers and hir­ers uti­lize their even­tual fa­mil­iar­ity to by­pass the app and cre­ate their own shar­ing ar­range­ments?

“We are not afraid that car own­ers and renters will by­pass Carshare when they be­come fa­mil­iar with each other. This is be­cause the au­to­mo­bile in­sur­ance from Direc­tAsia will not cover ac­ci­dents un­der just any rental deal agreed be­tween carown­ers and renters,” Carshare.hk co-founder Joyce Kan Suet-yan said.

The rise of apps in goods shar­ing is push­ing in­ter­me­di­aries to be­come more ef­fi­cient by mak­ing timely mar­ket re­sponses and bring­ing value-added ser­vices, Kan added.

PwC projects that the five key shar­ing sec­tors — travel ac­com­mo­da­tion, cars, fi­nance, staffing, and mu­sic and video stream­ing — will see po­ten­tial global rev­enues sky­rocket over the next decade, from roughly $15 bil­lion to­day to around $335 bil­lion by 2025.

Con­tact the writer at oswald@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Airbnb, which fea­tures some 3,000 Hong Kong home­s­tay op­tions, may ac­tu­ally be breach­ing the SAR’s or­di­nance on run­ning ho­tels and guest­houses.

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