Airbnb reports huge loss after pandemic hits travel

Earns Airbnb Credit: AP/Press Association Images

Home-sharing site Airbnb has posted a 3.9 billion dollar (£2.8bn) loss in the fourth quarter of 2020 as it suffered from the pandemic downturn in travel.

In results released on Thursday — Airbnb’s first as a publicly traded entity — the company took a charge of 2.8 billion dollar (£2bn) for stock compensation related to its flotation. A year earlier, Airbnb lost 352 million dollars (£251m).

Revenue fell 22% to 859 million dollars (£613m) in the quarter that ended December 31. Nights booked fell 39% from a year earlier.

Airbnb declined to offer a forecast for 2021 profit and revenue.

Company executives said they are upbeat about a recovery but they said the unknown pace of vaccinations make it difficult to know how quickly people will be willing to travel.

The company did say revenue will not decline as much in the current quarter as it did in the fourth quarter of last year.

When travel comes back, we believe it will look different than before

Brian Chesky

In late January, Airbnb said a survey it commissioned showed that just over half of Americans have already booked a trip or plan to travel this year.

Since the start of the pandemic, Airbnb has shifted its focus to beach towns and mountain destinations — outdoor places where the risk of contracting the coronavirus is perceived to be lower. The company expects rentals in big cities to come back last.

It has also slashed costs and jobs to ride out the pandemic, much like airlines and others in the travel industry.

CEO Brian Chesky said his company will benefit from changes in travel and jobs as many people work from somewhere other than the office — maybe a rental far from home.

“When travel comes back, we believe it will look different than before,” Mr Chesky said on a call with analysts.

“People are living more nomadically. Some people are taking longer-term stays, one or two months at a time in Airbnb.”

The company is counting on adding hosts. It believes that people who book long-term rentals will also turn to Airbnb to rent their empty homes.

For all of 2020, Airbnb lost nearly 4.6 billion dollars including the charge for stock-based compensation.

That compared with a 2019 loss of 674 million dollars. Even as revenue increased, the company also lost money in 2017 and 2018 as it spent heavily on marketing and technology and added new lines to the business.

Despite the years of losses, Airbnb generated sky-high expectations from investors, which led to a winning debut on the stock market in December, when its shares more than doubled the San Francisco-based company’s target price and gave it a valuation of just over 100 billion dollars.