Airbnb says it beat its revenue projections for 2020

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A living room at an Airbnb Plus accommodation in Los Angeles.
A living room at an Airbnb Plus accommodation in Los Angeles.

In its first earnings call since going public, Airbnb reported a relatively "resilient business performance" amid the pandemic for its fourth quarter and full-year 2020.

"We forecasted that revenue in 2020 could be less than half of 2019 levels, yet we delivered $3.4 billion of full-year revenue, down only 30% compared to the year earlier," Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky told investors during the Thursday call.

Moreover, Airbnb's fourth-quarter revenue was down just 22%, to $859 million, on the same quarter in 2019, despite "the second wave of Covid cases and widespread lockdowns," Chesky added.

For 2021, the company is preparing for a "significant travel rebound," which Chesky predicted will be fueled by high levels of pent-up demand and increased flexibility around remote work, allowing travelers to book longer stays and take different types of trips.

In order to meet this anticipated boom in demand, Airbnb is focusing on fine-tuning its customer service and guest experience platforms as well as recruiting more hosts. The company recently launched what Chesky called its first large-scale marketing campaign in five years, running under the tagline "Made possible by hosts."

Brian Chesky
Brian Chesky

Airbnb currently has around 4 million hosts globally on its platform, with roughly 90% of them categorized as "individual hosts," versus more large-scale property management groups.

"Even though the brand of Airbnb is mainstream, the idea of hosting is not," said Chesky. "Our goal with this campaign is to make a long-term investment in educating the world about our hosts. And it will create more awareness around the idea of becoming a host by making it more mainstream and aspirational."

To help attract new hosts, Airbnb is streamlining its on-boarding process, enabling users to become a host "in less than 10 minutes," according to Chesky.

"During the recession in 2008, people were losing their jobs, losing their homes, and many people turned to Airbnb for income," he added. "We think now hosting is as appealing as ever before, given the economic circumstances happening in this country and around the world."

One accommodation type that Airbnb appears to be somewhat pulling back from, however, is hotels. The company added hotels to its listings mix in 2018 and made a bigger jump into the space with its acquisition of last-minute hotel booking platform HotelTonight in 2019.

While Chesky touted the strength of the HotelTonight brand, calling it "one of the most-loved hotel booking apps in the world," he acknowledged that Airbnb was forced to "scale back" its investment on the hotel side throughout the pandemic.

"We didn't scale back entirely," Chesky noted. "We still are investing in hotels, just not as much as before. Airbnb is a community of 4 million hosts, and they are who we're prioritizing. That's what our guests seek. But that being said, we never want Airbnb guests to come to Airbnb and not be able to find something they're looking for. So, we think that hotels, in addition to property managers, are really important for our strategy."

For the full year, Airbnb reported a net loss of $4.59 billion.

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