Airbnb sees 'substantial demand' for travel as outlook tops estimates

Airbnb's shares gained about 6 per cent in extended trading on May 3, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Airbnb gave a forecast for revenue in the current quarter that easily surpassed Wall Street's estimates as the company sees "substantial demand" for travel heading into the busy summer season after more than two years of Covid-19 restrictions.

The company's shares gained about 6 per cent in extended trading on Tuesday (May 3).

Second-quarter revenue will be US$2.03 billion (S$2.8 billion) to US$2.13 billion. That topped the average analyst's estimate of US$1.97 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue in the first three months of the year was also better than expected, helping to significantly narrow the net loss at the vacation home rental platform.

"As we lap the beginning of the travel rebound that started last year, we are particularly encouraged by the compounding growth we are seeing in North America," chief executive Brian Chesky wrote in a letter to shareholders. "US domestic demand this year has so far outpaced our internal expectations and we are encouraged by US international bookings exceeding 2019 levels."

Mr Chesky also said Airbnb is seeing "higher than historical demand" for the fourth quarter, "which indicates that consumer confidence to travel remains strong beyond the summer months."

Airbnb, along with its rivals Expedia Group and Booking Holdings, have said they expect this summer to be one of the best the industry has ever seen, as travellers unleash pent-up demand and head to far-flung destinations and tourist hot spots. That vision was threatened earlier this year with the resurgent Omicron Covid-19 variant and the breakout of war in Ukraine, yet industry executives have remained unfailingly optimistic.

There are positive signs that people are itching to travel. For example, United Airlines Holdings is boosting capacity for transatlantic flights and Southwest Airlines said it expects to be profitable for the remaining three quarters of the year, even with oil prices well over US$100 a barrel.

In Expedia's earnings report on Monday, which showed an 80 per cent jump in revenue in the first quarter, CEO Peter Kern said he's "feeling very good about a summer recovery that should be very robust".

Despite reporting results that were in line with analysts' estimates, Expedia shares fell 17 per cent, the most since March 2020 as concern about inflation, which is running at its hottest in nearly four decades, and the risk for recession begins to cloud the vision. Travel companies, from hotels to airlines, have been saying consumers are willing to pay the rising prices so far, but there appears to be a limit. Hilton Worldwide Holdings gave a profit forecast that fell short of analysts' expectations.

Airbnb has managed to weather the pandemic and even thrive, achieving the best year in the company's history in 2021, as it claims a "new world of travel" has emerged. The flexibility offered by new remote work policies has resulted in people spreading out to thousands of towns and cities, staying for weeks, months, or even entire seasons at a time, Mr Chesky said.

"So far, from what I can tell, you're still seeing improvements versus 2019 levels across European and US geographies," said KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Justin Patterson in an interview before the results were released. "What I can tell today, the demand for travel has not weakened in the US or Europe."

Airbnb said first-quarter revenue increased 70 per cent to US$1.51 billion, surpassing the average analyst estimate of US$1.45 billion. The company reported a net loss of US$19 million compared with a loss of US$1.2 billion a year ago. The loss per share was 3 cents, while analysts had projected a loss of 29 cents.

The number of nights and experiences booked surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter, rising 59 per cent to 102.1 million and exceeding 100 million for the first time. Daily rates also increased, bringing gross booking value to US$17.2 billion while analysts had forecast US$15.9 billion.

Earlier this year, Mr Chesky himself began "living" on Airbnb and staying in rentals around the country for a few weeks at a time to help improve the experience of people who can now live anywhere. Mirroring the trends of its customers, Airbnb said last week that its employees would be permanently able to work from anywhere - including their home, the office or while traveling in different countries.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.