Airbnb sees pickup in demand for domestic travel

Linda J. Dodson

PALO ALTO, U.S. — While international travel has plunged due to the coronavirus outbreak, demand for self-catering accommodation for domestic vacations has increased, Airbnb said.

The San Francisco-based accommodation booking platform said Wednesday that apart from a rise in short-term stays, demand for longer-term lodging is also starting to pick up.

“If you look at domestic travel on Airbnb over the last two and a half weeks versus a year ago, it actually increased globally,” Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder, chief strategy officer and chairman of the company, said during an exclusive interview with the Nikkei. “It gives you a sense of how strong the rebound has been.”

“The bigger the country is, the stronger the domestic market is. So, U.S. is a top one for domestic travel,” Blecharczyk said. “China has been strong and Japan has been strong, too.”

Airbnb cut 1,900 jobs or about a quarter of its total workforce in early May. CEO Brian Chesky said then: “Business has been hit hard, with revenue this year forecast to be less than half of what we earned in 2019.”

But Blecharczyk said that the company has been pleasantly surprised by how quickly demand is recovering. “It’s a different kind of travel,” he said.

As countries keep their borders closed to non-essential travel, reservations for so-called staycations have risen. In Japan, reservations for domestic travel last week doubled from a year earlier. Half of those were for accommodation within 80 km of origin and reachable in about 90 minutes, according to Blecharczyk.

“People are staying a little bit longer,” he said. “We have already seen a significant number of people booking monthlong stays or greater.”

Demand for lodging is also strong from medical workers who want to prevent spreading coronavirus to their families.

“I think you’ll see more people working from home and part of this plays well to Airbnb,” Blecharczyk said. “Now people can actually travel one month here, one month there, they can be nomads while they’re working. So they don’t have to choose between work and travel. They can do both at the same time.”

At a time when social distancing is advised by most governments and the World Health Organization, tourists are more likely to shy away from hotels and turn to apartments, villas and cottages.

Blecharczyk said: “We’ve surveyed our guests, those who are familiar with Airbnb. Three out of four say that they would prefer to stay at an Airbnb during this time, versus a hotel. People just want to avoid shared spaces and any possibility of a crowd or a line.”

To ensure proper cleaning and to avoid contagion, Airbnb is planning to ban the use of facilities for 24 hours after guest departures. Airbnb is also planning to implement a certification system to rate lodging on cleanliness and hygiene levels.

Blecharczyk denied speculation that Airbnb was planning to delay the initial public offering it had planned for this year, although he said the company was focused on servicing its debts.

Referring to the IPO, he said: “That was our original intention and we are prepared to do that as soon as the market conditions improve.”

Airbnb raised $2 billion in debt in April to prepare for a plunge in business. Blecharczyk said: “We did raise $2 billion in debt. So it would be better to just repay that debt.”

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