After being crushed by the coronavirus crisis, the short-term rental market is bouncing back. But that's not necessarily good news for market leader Airbnb.
Much of the pick-up in activity is coming from vacation destinations within driving distances of major cities, Scott Shatford, CEO of AirDNA, an industry research firm, told Business Insider. Those kinds of areas have long been a stronghold of VRBO, Airbnb's chief rival, he said. By contrast, Airbnb's stronghold is in cities, which are not seeing nearly as much of an uptick in reservations, he said.
"It's just in the nature of who's booking travel," said Shatford. "I think VRBO, through this summer," he continued, "will perform better than Airbnb."
Big cities are seeing only a limited rebound
By contrast, big cities are seeing much more modest increases in bookings. New York was up only 40% from the April bottom. And San Francisco was up by less than 50%. And that was before widespread protests erupted in cities across the country, often resulting in government-imposed curfews.
People who are going to those vacation destinations are typically older and looking for bigger places to rent, such as four-bedroom houses, Shatford said. Those kinds of spaces are right in VRBO's wheelhouse, but not in Airbnb's, he said.
Airbnb will likely benefit from being guest-friendly
Meanwhile, the differing ways Airbnb and VRBO handled cancellations during the coronavirus crisis is likely to benefit the former, Shatford said. Both companies allow the property managers who use their services to set their own cancellation terms. But during the pandemic, Airbnb has allowed many travelers to cancel their bookings and get a full refund, regardless of what the host's policies would have provided. VRBO, by contrast, has stuck by its hosts, many of whom have refused to offer full refunds.
Some hosts have threatened to abandon Airbnb because it overrode their cancellation policies. But that same move likely earned the company the loyalty of travelers, Shatford said.
"I'm still am of this belief ... that guest loyalty will win this in the long run," he said.
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