Longer stays in more remote locations helped Airbnb’s earnings hold up better than expected amid a pandemic-battered travel industry, as the company touted its “resilience” in its first quarterly earnings report since its initial public offering.
The company’s revenue for the three months to the end of December comfortably exceeded expectations — $859m versus analysts’ estimate of $747m, according to FactSet, and down 22 per cent on the same quarter in 2019.
The revenue decline was far less severe than at its main competitors, Expedia and Booking.com, which were down 67 and 63 per cent respectively during the same period.
Analysts have noted a trend for longer stays, in more remote locations and communities, as the driving force behind Airbnb’s recovery. In the third quarter, its gross booking value was down 17 per cent on the previous year — better than expected — with domestic stays and working-from-home arrangements counteracting the decline in cross border travel.
That trend continued into the fourth quarter, Brian Chesky, chief executive, wrote in a letter to shareholders on Thursday: “In Q4 more guests stayed in Sicily than in Florence and Venice combined, and more in Devon than in Oxford and Cambridge combined.”
However, Airbnb suffered heavy losses, mostly due to costs related to its long-awaited market debut in December. Its fourth-quarter loss came to $3.9bn, $2.9bn of which was stock-based compensation.
Airbnb also recorded more than $800m in adjustments related to warrants it awarded some debtholders last year. It granted the warrants, which can be converted to shares, as part of emergency fundraising during the early stages of the pandemic. The company’s stock price leapt by almost 70 per cent on its first day of trading.
Adjusting for those expenses — and removing income tax, depreciation, and amortisation — Airbnb said its adjusted Ebitda loss for the quarter was $25m. Analysts had expected a loss of $122m. Airbnb’s net losses for the entire year ran to $4.6bn.
Airbnb reported $3.4bn in revenue for the entire pandemic-hit 2020. While that was 30 per cent lower than 2019, the company still heralded it as a notable recovery. By contrast, its revenues in the second quarter — when much of the world was gripped by lockdowns and travel restrictions — had plummeted 72 per cent.
“At the depth of the pandemic, we forecasted our 2020 revenue could be less than half of what it was in 2019,” Chesky wrote in the letter.
By the end of the year, however, the number of bookings exceeded what Wall Street analysts had predicted. Average nightly bookings — $127.56 in the final quarter of 2020 — came in line with expectations, while gross booking value — the total dollar amount of nights and “experiences” booked on the platform — was $5.9bn in the quarter, versus Wall Street’s expectation of around $5.2bn.
Airbnb declined to give formal guidance for the year ahead, citing uncertainty around vaccination rollout.
“It is too early to predict overall recovery trends for the travel industry and their impact on our business,” it wrote in the filing. “We have been encouraged by our continued resilience and recovery, and are optimistic about the upcoming travel rebound.”
In its shareholder letter, Airbnb said it would invest in recruiting more hosts to the platform for when demand picks up. During the pandemic, the company apologised to angry hosts after forcing them to provide full refunds for Covid-19-related cancellations.