Airbnb shares soar on US stock market debut

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Airbnb shares have more than doubled in price as the home-sharing company made its debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

The San Francisco-based company had priced its shares at 68 dollars (£55) apiece late on Wednesday but they opened at 146 dollars (£118).

Instead of the traditional ringing of the bell prior to the trading day, Airbnb presented a video of Airbnb hosts from around the world ringing their doorbells.

In a video message, CEO Brian Chesky also thanked the millions of guests who have stayed at its listings.

“You gave us hope that the idea of strangers staying together, in each others’ homes, was not so crazy after all,” Mr Chesky said. “Airbnb is rooted in the fundamental idea that people are good and we’re in this together.”

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The electronic screen at the Nasdaq displays an advert for Airbnb (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Airbnb wants to add more hosts and properties, expand in markets like India, China and Latin America and attract new guests but first it will need to recover.

Airbnb — which has never posted an annual profit — said its revenue fell 32% to 2.5 billion dollars (£2bn) in the first nine months of this year as the coronavirus forced travellers to cancel their plans.

The company delayed its IPO — initially planned for the spring — and funded operations with 2 billion dollars in loans.

In May, Airbnb cut 1,900 employees — or 25% of its workforce — and halted programmes not related to its core business, like movie production.

But in the months since, Airbnb’s business rebounded faster than hotels as travellers felt safer booking private homes away from crowded city centres during the pandemic.

In Miami, for example, short-term rental occupancy reached 83% in October, while average occupancy for hotels was 42%, according to STR, an accommodations data firm.

Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky speaks during an event in San Francisco (Eric Risberg/AP)

Airbnb now has 7.4 million listings, from castles to treehouses, in 220 countries. They are operated by 4 million hosts.

The company controls around 39% of the global short-term rental market, according to Euromonitor. It is the market leader in Europe but trails VRBO, a vacation rental company owned by Expedia, in North America.

Looking ahead, Airbnb thinks it could see a surge in business from people who are able to work remotely.

“We believe that the lines between travel and living are blurring, and the global pandemic has accelerated the ability to live anywhere,” Airbnb said in a recent financial filing.

It could also expand its offerings further into boutique hotels, as it signalled with its 2019 purchase of last-minute hotel room supplier Hotel Tonight.

Still, Airbnb acknowledges it will be difficult and expensive to attract new hosts and guests. Its revenue growth rate was already slowing in the years leading up to the pandemic.

“I do think the company will benefit from the pent-up travel demand once the vaccine is widely distributed, but why would someone want to buy into a travel-related, unprofitable business with slowing growth?” said Scott Rostan, the CEO of Training the Street, which advises Wall Street analysts.

Airbnb was born 13 years ago in the San Francisco apartment shared by Brian Chesky — now the company’s CEO — and Joe Gebbia, who leads its design studio and, its charitable arm.

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