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Airbnb revenue beats estimates, showing demand amid COVID surge

An image of Brian Chesky, the chief executive Airbnb, on the Nasdaq screen the day the company's shares began trading, in Times Square in New York City.
An image of Brian Chesky, the chief executive Airbnb, on the Nasdaq screen the day the company's shares began trading, in Times Square in New York City.HIROKO MASUIKE/New York Times/File 2020

Airbnb reported revenue in the fourth quarter that blitzed analysts’ estimates, benefiting as people traveled over the holiday season despite rising COVID-19 cases and highlighting how vacation-home rentals are dominating the travel rebound.

Releasing its financial results for the first time as a public company on Thursday, Airbnb showed sales of $859 million in the final three months of 2020, a decline of only 22 percent from a year earlier. Analysts had been projecting $739.7 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Nights and experiences booked, a metric that represents the total number of guest stays and tourist activities booked on the platform, dropped 39 percent from a year earlier to 46.3 million, the San Francisco-based company said in a statement. Gross booking value fell 31 percent to $5.9 billion.

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The coronavirus pandemic continues to hammer the travel industry after a surge in cases through winter led to new lockdowns and restrictions and the vaccine rollout has faced hurdles globally. Airbnb was among the hardest-hit companies of the pandemic and almost shelved its IPO plans as travel shut down nearly a year ago. By April, room bookings and experiences had plunged 72 percent. Airbnb rolled out a blanket refund policy and doled out more than $1 billion in cancellation fees.

But Airbnb, which helped pioneer the home-sharing vacation model, has fared better than its rivals as travelers have taken advantage of work-from-home opportunities, road-tripping to nearby mountain villages or beach towns, often booking longer stays than usual.

Airbnb started to see business stabilize in the fall and the company ended 2020 with a record-setting IPO. It’s stock is up 165 percent since then, valuing the company at more than $100 billion, greater than either Expedia or Booking Holdings Inc.

Airbnb gave a cautious outlook about travel this year. “We have been encouraged by our continued resilience and recovery, and are optimistic about the upcoming travel rebound,” the company said in its report.

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But, Airbnb said it has “limited visibility for growth” in 2021 “given the difficulty in determining the pace of vaccine rollouts and the related impact on willingness to travel.” Chief executive Brian Chesky has said he is hopeful vaccine distribution will lead to a post-pandemic travel boom that will continue to favor Airbnb over traditional hotels.