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Airbnb Is Banking on a Post-Pandemic Travel Boom

The home-rental company defined the travel industry after the last cataclysm, but may be less suited for what’s next.

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Photographer: Kelsey McClellan for Bloomberg Businessweek

Back in March, when sheltering in place was still a novelty, Airbnb Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky hung an oversized print from his company’s in-house magazine on a bare wall above his sofa, hoping it would brighten up his home office. The image, of a rustic cabin set against snowcapped mountains, seemed to signify the monumental task of running a home-sharing website during a deadly pandemic. Or perhaps it signified the absurdity of managing a multinational company via videoconference, appearing before employees, investors, and lenders exclusively from the waist up. “I do wear pants,” Chesky says in an interview over Zoom. “I want to be clear.”

Airbnb Inc., which Chesky founded in a much more modest San Francisco living room in 2008, is among the world’s most valuable lodging companies. It distinguished itself with an inventory of mostly short-term rentals (it takes a cut of about 15%) and had been preparing for what should have been a triumphant public listing right around now. The pandemic has crushed the global economy and shut down anything resembling a hotel. Officials who initially predicted a weekslong pause are now talking in terms of months or even seasons.