Today in “we told you so”: One week after Airbnb announced a promotion offering overnight stays on the Great Wall of China — and we decried it for being antithetical to conservation efforts — the company has canceled it.
This comes after “a district cultural commission said on Monday that it did not support the promotion as it was not in line with conservation plans for the wall,” writes Reuters.
But wait, so Airbnb didn’t even have approval from the proper authorities and still got to the point of announcing an unprecedented and undoubtedly complex giveaway? If you’re wondering how the Great Wall, one of the most recognizable historical landmarks in the world, has reached its current state of peril — now you have your answer.
For what it’s worth, according to a press release from Airbnb, “there was an agreement in place that was the basis for the announcement of this event.”
But since the entire point of this marketing scheme was growing its Chinese presence, the company is not going to press the issue. So we can all sleep soundly tonight knowing at least some things, for now, are not for sale.
The Great Wall of China is in trouble.
In 2002, it was put on the World Monuments Watch, a biennial list of the most endangered cultural heritage sites. In 2004, it was featured again. In 2015, the Beijing Times reported one third of it was gone. This year, it was deemed a top 10 place not to visit because it’s under threat, from erosion, vandalism and overtourism. Last month, a section collapsed.
So, naturally, Airbnb announced this new listing today: overnight stays in a tower on the Wall.
No, this isn’t some IHOb-esque marketing prank. Airbnb has secured “a centuries-old tower perched along the Wall with 360-degree views,” redecorated it into a swanky lodgings fit for two, and is offering bookings this September, according to a press release.
Great Wall (9 images)
The catch? Only four people (and one guest apiece) will receive one-night stays — as well as a multi-course dinner, private concert, sunrise hike and more — chosen by way of a short essay contest.
Here’s the prompt: “Why is it more important now than ever to break down barriers between cultures? How would you want to build new connections?”
How’s this for an entry: Breaking down cultural barriers is essential in this age of unavoidable climate change and unconscionable tourism, because in order to protect significant historical, cultural and environmental sites we must collectively as a species value preservation over retrofitting our world’s greatest treasures into exclusive playthings. When we spend more time educating ourselves and others about these issues — and less time collecting #wanderlust Instagrams like currency — new cross-cultural connections will happen organically.
So ... did I win?
OK, that’s a tiny bit unfair, as the press release notes that part of the reasoning behind this stunt is to “promote sustainable tourism to China by spotlighting wide ranging efforts to preserve the Wall's deep heritage” and Nathan Blecharczyk, Co-Founder and Chairman of Airbnb China, says the company is working “with historians and preservationists groups” on the project.
That is, before it goes on to mention the “growing interest and popularity of Airbnb in China” and that it’s “Airbnb’s vision to help millions of people feel like they can belong anywhere, including atop one of the world’s most iconic existing structural marvels!” Hopefully not at the same time.
Here’s hoping Airbnb does the right thing and invests in the Wall’s longtime preservation, the Great Wall is preserved for generations to come ... and I win one of these trips.
Images via Airbnb