Did Airbnb Win The Pandemic?
Bloomberg Businessweek|December 07, 2020
The company’s ability to adapt to Covid puts it ahead of rivals and may have saved its IPO
By Patrick Clark

Jeff Iloulian braced for his business to crash when the Covid-19 pandemic set in this spring. Iloulian runs HostGPO, a company that helps owners who rent property through Airbnb and similar platforms negotiate discounts on household products and furnishings. His clients suddenly had so few guests in lucrative urban markets that some hired movers to haul furniture from downtown apartments to nearby warehouses.

This would have been a disaster for HostGPO, except that those same property managers were doing big business in rural markets, and they began hunting for real estate in places not known as vacation hotbeds: Lake Arrowhead in addition to Lake Tahoe, eastern Pennsylvania as well as the Hamptons. “People are buying expensive furniture in the Poconos right now,” says Iloulian. “The demand moved around, it didn’t vanish.”

The shifting geography of Iloulian’s business helped save his year. It also saved Airbnb, the short-term rental platform that most of his clients rely on for many of their customers. Heading into 2020, Airbnb was poised for one of the most anticipated initial public offerings of the year—and a validation for one of the buzziest tech startups of the last decade. The coronavirus changed that. While the pandemic has been terrible for Airbnb in many respects, the company has done well compared with airlines, hotel brands, cruise lines, and most other parts of the global travel industry. Its revenue fell 18% during the third quarter compared with 2019. That was far better than Marriott International Inc., which reported a 57% drop in sales, and online travel agency Expedia Group Inc., whose revenue declined 58%.

In fact, the third quarter was Airbnb’s most successful to date by some financial measures. To some extent that’s a result of drastic spending cuts.

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