Virtually every company in the world has experienced a pandemic-ignited crisis at this point. Airbnb’s dwarfs most.
When Covid-19 became a global pandemic, the travel company had been in the process of registering to go public. Over the following eight weeks, it lost 80 percent of its business. The public and press pondered its future: “Is This the End of Airbnb?” a Wired UK headline asked.
Today, Airbnb has almost rebounded–or, rather, it has regained stability as the consumer appetite for travel continues to climb. The company has completed its IPO–and its stock, after an initial dip, has been climbing too. Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky announced on Tuesday some 50 upgrades aimed at helping hosts and travelers find each other, as well as to safeguard their property. He also addressed how he led his staff through the sudden upheaval.
“In a crisis you have to communicate a lot more frequently. So I got out there. I didn’t hide. I looked into the camera, and answered every single question,” he tells Inc. Chesky estimates he did 100 press interviews last year, and spoke at many all-hands meetings for staffers. It wasn’t easy: Airbnb had laid off 1,900 people, or about 25 percent of its workforce. Still, he says, he tried to keep employees’ mindsets positive, encouraging them to prove the company could rebound and flourish.
“I kept indoctrinating the company with: This is our defining moment. And you know what happened? It was our defining moment,” he says. “It was almost like a rebirth.”
In November 2020, Airbnb filed reworked IPO paperwork that acknowledged the financial hit it had taken–it reported $2.52 billion in revenue for the first nine months of 2020, down from nearly $3.7 billion the same period the prior year–but also documented a dramatic shift in travel behavior, and a new understanding of the future of travel.
“Stays of longer than a few days started increasing as work-from-home became work-from-any-home on Airbnb. We believe that the lines between travel and living are blurring, and the global pandemic has accelerated the ability to live anywhere,” the S-1 filing read.
Since then, Chesky says the company’s thinking about the future of travel has evolved even further. “Something bigger than a travel rebound is happening. We think it’s a travel revolution,” he says. While business travel will not return to its former state, he asserts, large companies are demonstrating that they will continue to allow workers to work from anywhere.
The pandemic “untethered us from a place of work,” Chesky says, noting that one-fifth of its business comes from stays of longer than one month. That indicates a trend toward customers not just vacationing, but rather temporarily living in Airbnb properties.
The company’s winter upgrade announcement supports that finding. It is announcing a revamped insurance product for hosts, called AirCover, with up to $1 million in damage protection and $1 million in liability coverage, that includes pet damage protection and greater flexibility about when claims can be filed. It’s also debuting instant online translation for listings across 60 languages, and the ability for hosts to verify their Wi-Fi speeds and post them to their listing.
“We made 150 upgrades in innovations this year. That’s nearly an upgrade or innovation every 48 hours,” Chesky says. “And we’re just getting started.”