Airbnb hopes to capitalize on the growing popularity of rental housing during the coronavirus pandemic with its $ 3 billion initial public offering, but the sun may be setting soon. An important question is whether travelers will continue to book short-term rental apartments or return to hotels as the health crisis deepens.
While rental apartment bookings have soared over the summer, some executives are hinting at a weakening of fall and winter trends, claiming that there will be a return to hotels in 2021 once a vaccine is available.
BTIG analysts tracked real-time data and said Airbnb has weakened so far in the fourth quarter, with absolute volume trending back towards May.
"There is potential here for a double drop in booking volume, which is likely a factor in [Airbnb ]’s decision to move ahead with its IPO now," Steven Jankowski, growth director for data analytics company AllTheRooms, told CNBC.
Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking Holdings, also sees bookings for alternative accommodations dropping. According to the third quarter results released earlier this month, the largest online tour operator said home rentals accounted for a smaller proportion of bookings in the third quarter than in the second quarter.
Fogel told CNBC that hotel bookings were improving as the number of coronavirus cases fell over the summer. Peter Kern, CEO of Expedia, said something similar about the call for results.
While travel experts anticipate an increase in cancellations this holiday season as Covid-19 cases rise to record levels, most are still anticipating a possible recovery in travel sometime in 2021 once a vaccine becomes more widely available.
"Demand will return"
Steve Kaufer, CEO of TripAdvisor, said he sees a vaccine that will help with both home rentals and traditional hotels, especially when travelers visit places that have become less popular during the pandemic.
"As the great vaccine news that comes out as we and so many other companies plan a robust travel recreation, especially in the recreational sector, we know that demand will return to all of the wonderful places everyone loves to go – the big cities, the tours who have favourited activity, "Kaufer said Tuesday in CNBC's" The Exchange ". "And of course there is no shortage of fantastic properties, hotels and rentals when you travel to our wonderful cities around the world."
According to data from STR, a global hotel research company, the average hotel occupancy rate across the country in August was over 50%. Since then, hotel bookings – much like home rentals – have been on the decline as states reintroduce public health restrictions and seasonal factors re-enter.
In this photo illustration a man looks at the Airbnb website on April 20, 2020 in Katwijk, the Netherlands.
Yuriko Nakao | Getty Images News | Getty Images
While the titans of the industry await approval of a vaccine that comes with a surge in travel expenses, Airbnb's outperformance this year is remarkable. "Airbnb showed clear strength in domestic travel, travel closer to home and longer travel," said Jake Fuller, director and analyst for digital services at BTIG.
In terms of gross bookings for the first nine months of 2020, Airbnb is down 39%, Booking Holdings is down 63% and Expedia is down 65% year over year. While the comparison doesn't go from apples to apples, with Expedia and Booking Holdings offering flights and hotels in addition to home rentals, analysts reflect the influence of consumers on vacation rental rentals over the past six months.
Data from AllTheRooms also shows that Airbnb beat one of its main competitors, Expedia's VRBO, in the rental nights booked in 2020.
Book short-term rentals with Airbnb vs. Vrbo.
If Airbnb goes public before the end of the year, investors will watch how preferences change and whether homes or hotels become the first choice. Although travel chefs are expecting a return to hotels, AllTheRooms' Jankowski believes travelers will continue to book rental homes for social distancing reasons.
"Going forward, Airbnb looks well positioned as short-term rentals are likely to continue to be preferred over hotels due to the social distancing factor, even if travel will hopefully pick up again in 2021 with a vaccine," Jankowski said.