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Can Airbnb Survive Coronavirus?

The short-term rental market is reeling from the coronavirus-driven tourism collapse. Can the industry’s dominant player stage a comeback after lockdowns lift?
A lone tourist in Barcelona, one of several global cities that have seen a massive crash in Airbnb bookings.
A lone tourist in Barcelona, one of several global cities that have seen a massive crash in Airbnb bookings.Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

What will happen to home-sharing in the wake of coronavirus? It’s one of many questions about the fate of pre-pandemic sharing-economy juggernauts like Airbnb. That company and its competitors have transformed the market for travel accommodation in recent years, reshaping neighborhoods and whole cities in the process as short-term rentals swept through heavily touristed parts of the world. But with tourism on hold, national economies staggered, and public attitudes about shared space very much in question, the prospects for that industry are now murky.

In the immediate future, things look dire indeed. Across the world, Airbnb bookings have tanked. Data analysts at AirDNA say that bookings across Europe collapsed in March, dropping 80% compared to the previous week in the week beginning March 9, and another 10% on top of that in the week of March 16. In the U.S., where virus response lagged, the figures for falls in booking are uneven, but scarcely less dramatic. By the middle of March, bookings in New York City, San Francisco and Seattle had already dropped more than 50% compared to the week beginning January 5, with drops of over 35% in Washington, D.C., and Chicago.