A rural rebound may continue to power Airbnb, even as it changes the ways we travel and where we trek.
To that end, as reported by Bloomberg, Friday (Sept. 4), CEO Brian Chesky — who said as of the pandemic that travel as we know it is “over” — said in a recent interview with the news outlet that when it comes to getting where we want to go once the pandemic is done, “some things will return and some won’t.”
Of the things that may be gone, or at least relatively muted: business travel and loyalty programs. But travel to (at least some) cities will survive.
Airbnb, of course, is experiencing the vagaries of consumer sentiment, of the desire to get away from it all, in a series of whiplash-worthy stats. Those numbers show a 90 percent plummet in bookings as the pandemic hit, as measured year over year and in July, 22 percent gains (year-over-year sales) and consumers opted to venture out.
Chesky told Bloomberg that on July 8, the company saw guests book more than 1 million nights of Airbnb stays (for future trips), which is the first time since early March the company has seen that level of booking activity. Home rentals in cities are roughly 20 percent of bookings, where last year those locations were 40 percent of site bookings — and no city alone gets more than 2 percent of Airbnb’s booking activity.
“The genie is out of the bottle,” Chesky told Bloomberg. “People are now discovering small towns, small communities, they’re discovering national parks, falling in love with the outdoors, and realizing they can go to all sorts of other places. This is an irreversible trend.”
Drilling down a bit into business travel, Bloomberg noted that remote work means corporate travel will suffer. And as PYMNTS noted in this space, as airlines continue to cut pilot jobs, to see pressure on travel — in confirmation that travel has changed, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in July that “we’re at a stall right now,” as noted on the company’s latest earnings call.
With a specific nod to business travel, he said, “The number of trips that the average road warrior takes, I’m sure, is going to come down in certain cases … I don’t think we’ll ever get back entirely to where we were in 2019 on the volume of business traffic.” Separately, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association of the world’s airlines, estimated that global passenger traffic will not return to pre-COVID levels until 2024.
If would-be passengers are not flying much, it implies that the trips they do take will be closer to come, accessible by car (which still offers the self-contained comfort and relatively safety in a world still roiled by the pandemic). That seems to bode well for Airbnb, and seems to support the narrative of growth that might be leading the company to go it alone in its bid to go public.
Earlier this week, there were reports that Airbnb rejected investor William Ackman’s offer to merge with his special purpose acquisition company (SPAC, sometimes known as a “blank check” company) to go public.
Airbnb had recently been valued at $18 billion amid a fundraising round earlier this year, but if the recent rebound remains entrenched, and rural rental demand remains strong, the next chapter could be written right now — even as other travel-dependent firms and sectors see turbulence.