Airbnb says ‘Travel is coming back’ in first earnings report

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In its first earnings report as a publicly traded company, Airbnb delivered a hopeful forecast for the coronavirus-battered travel industry, expressing optimism that people’s appetite for new destinations will grow this year as vaccines begin to finally make a dent in the pandemic.

“Travel is coming back and we are laser-focused on preparing for the travel rebound,” the company said in its opening statement.

Despite travel grinding to a halt last year, Airbnb says its revenue for the fourth quarter was down only 22% compared to the same period in 2019, a sign of both its “resilience” as a company and its “strong financial discipline,” according to the firm. Airbnb significantly scaled back its business in the middle of the year, laying off about 25% of its staff, doubling down on its core platform, and capitalizing on stir-crazy customers in search of local travel and experiences.

Revenue for the quarter was $859 million, far higher than a Bloomberg consensus estimate of $739.7 million. Revenue for the full year was $3.4 billion, down 30% from the previous year.

Declines in the number of nights booked on Airbnb’s platform were somewhat more dramatic, falling 39% in the fourth quarter to 46.3 million. Perhaps even more dramatic was Airbnb’s fourth-quarter net loss of $3.89 billion, part of which Airbnb attributed to charges related to its IPO in December.

Even as Airbnb proclaimed its focus on the industry’s rebound, it noted that travel in the months ahead will not look like it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world. “We will see a shift from mass travel to meaningful travel,” the company wrote in a letter to shareholders. “And with more people working from home, there will be more flexibility around where and when they travel.”

It also cautioned that recovery trends for its business are still impossible to predict, given the uncertainty around how and when the pandemic will play out. “[We] continue to have limited visibility for growth trends in 2021 given the difficulty in determining the pace of vaccine roll-outs and the related impact on willingness to travel,” the company said. “We are not providing an outlook for the rest of 2021 at this time.”

Shares of Airbnb were largely flat in after-hours trading. You can read its full report and letter to shareholders here.

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