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A few months ago, the thought of Airbnb becoming a public company in 2020 would have been laughable. In March, COVID-19 brought Airbnb to its knees as travel ground to a halt. The company was forced to lay off 25% of its employees and its valuation dropped from $31B to $18B, seemingly overnight.
But now, less than six months later, there are some small signals that things are looking up for Airbnb. As the pandemic drags on, many people, especially those that live in cities, are looking to get out of their homes and find some space. According to Airbnb, hosts in rural areas of the U.S. earned over $200 million in June 2020 — an increase of more than 25% from the previous June. What’s more, Airbnb also said more than nine of every 10 dollars earned by hosts for June trips inside the U.S. were for sites outside the 10 biggest American cities by population.
Throughout big cities you can see people loading up their cars and driving to more rural destinations. In San Francisco, people are heading to Lake Tahoe and Napa. In New York, they’re heading upstate. In Southern California, beach cities are packed with people from Los Angeles. Inventory is low and costs are high. Airbnb is making money again, albeit not from their traditional big markets.
And, stays are getting longer. With most non-essential workers now able to work from anywhere, people are taking advantage of the flexibility. The length of the average stay has increased 18% to 4.27 days between January 2020 and June 2020, according to AllTheRooms, an aggregator of data on the vacation rental market.
But this is just one side of the coin. Airbnb is certainly feeling the pain of the pandemic as cities lose their charm for leisure travelers and business travel is put on ice. Not many people are coming into cities to enjoy a vacation amid closed museums, restaurant shut-downs and high densities of people. What about business travelers? Very few employers are allowing business travel and many think it will never come back to pre-Covid levels. In fact, half the respondents in a survey of Fortune 500 CEOs said trips at their companies would never return to what they were before Covid-19, according to Fortune magazine. City rentals and business travel make up a significant portion of Airbnb’s revenue so the company must be hurting as much as city hotels.
So what can hospitality learn from Airbnb’s IPO? The fact is that Airbnb’s IPO might mean nothing more than the US stock market is on a tear, largely due to monetary and fiscal stimulus, and the company wants to get in the action. All we know is that 2020 has been such a crazy roller coaster for the company that it better strap on. It likely has one more stomach turning ride before the year is up.