In another blow for hosts banking on a post-pandemic travel boom, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky on Monday signaled a gloomy forecast for the short-term rental industry.
Chesky, who founded Airbnb with Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk in 2008, told Axios that global travel — and, subsequently, lodging — may never return to what it was before the coronavirus outbreak.
“I will go on the record to say that travel will never, ever go back to the way it was pre-COVID; it just won’t,” Chesky told Axios over Zoom. “There are sometimes months when decades of transformation happen.”
The pandemic, which caused countries to lock up borders and airline companies to halt flights, has delivered an unprecedented blow to the tourism industry, which had only been growing since the short-term rental company first launched amid the 2008-2009 recession. As people around the globe put off almost all non-essential travel, those who make a living running rental companies have also been hit hard by a dearth of bookings.
While economies and businesses started opening up, travel is yet to recover.
“People are not getting on airplanes, they’re not crossing borders, they’re not meaningfully traveling to cities, they’re not traveling for business,” Chesky said.
Chesky said that the pandemic could permanently change how people travel — in the past, most travelers restricted themselves to about 50 to 100 major cities, often popular destinations such as Paris, Rome and Amsterdam. He believes that, while travel will restart again, many will consider shorter trips and locations in more remote places for a long time to come.
“People will, one day, get back on planes,” he said. “But one of the things that I do think is a fairly permanent shift is a redistribution of where travelers go.”
As a result, those who own vacation homes in remote but picturesque areas may see more bookings. Chesky is particularly optimistic for trips to natural parks and other remote destinations. But he believes that mass tourism and frequent business travel, in particular, may be a thing of the past — and that could be a serious blow to those who run Airbnbs and other rentals for those markets.
“They’re getting in cars,” he told Axios. “They’re traveling to communities that are 200 miles away or less. These are usually very small communities. They’re staying in homes and they’re staying longer.”