Airbnb has suspended a competition where winners would be able to spend a night on the Great Wall of China amid fears the stunt could cause damage to the 2,600-year-old structure.

The “Night at the Great Wall” contest was launched last Wednesday, though authorities say the firm failed to seek approval. Four winners and their guests would spend a night in a custom-designed watchtower on the most visited section of the Great Wall – the Badaling site.

The original competition closing date was scheduled for August 11. Photo: Airbnb screenshot.

In a statement, the short-term lodging and rental company said it was searching for alternatives: “[W]hile there was an agreement in place that was the basis for the announcement of this event, we deeply respect the feedback we have received. We have made the decision to not move forward with this event…”

The company had invited users from its 11 largest markets to write a creative essay on the importance of breaking down cultural barriers and building new connections. As part of the package, air travel, visa fees and entertainment costs would be covered.

But the Beijing cultural commission which oversees that the Balading section of the historical site said that no formal approval for the project had been granted to the company.

“[T]he Yanqing District Cultural Relics Protection Department has not received any documents regarding this activity submitted for its approval from any companies or organisations, and has not approved any projects seeking to hold homestay experiential activities on the Great Wall,” it said on Weibo.

The competition also prompted upset from some Chinese netizens, who said that the structure was a historical relic that should not be used for commercial lodging purposes.

See also: Hong Kong hotel assoc. attacks Airbnb, calling sharing economy ‘sugar-coated poison’

The Great Wall became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. There are no laws that prohibit its use as a lodging facility, but there are regulations that impose fines of up to RMB 500,000 (HK$574,650) upon those who vandalise the site.

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“In recent years, we have held similar events at unique or historic sites around the world that were produced in cooperation with more than 70 well-known tourist destinations,” AirBnb said.

The company has previously hosted similar competitions, including spending a night at “Dracula’s castle” in Transylvania, Romania, and a LEGO house in Denmark.

In March, AirBnb told its Chinese accommodation hosts that it will begin sharing their information with the authorities without notice.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.