News & Opinion | August 20, 2020 1:53 pm

Shaking Off a Nightmare Year, Airbnb Has Filed Preliminary IPO Paperwork

The company's private valuation is down $26 billion since the coronavirus pandemic began

airbnb ipo
Airbnb began its IPO process yesterday. It could benefit later this year from a rebounding stock market.
Phillip Faraone/Stringer

Homesharing titan Airbnb announced yesterday that it has filed to go public. Its proposal for an initial public offering was filed confidentially, which means it could take some time before we know how many shares will be offered, or how much they’ll cost. The SEC will now take time to review the proposal, and some have speculated that a Q3 or Q4 offering this year could be in the cards.

A successful debut could certainly help turn the year around for Airbnb, which has suffered mightily from the pandemic. The global pause on travel has affected every part of the industry, from seasonal destinations, to airlines operators, to even luggage companies (Away Travel saw its sales plummet 90% this year). But even among them, Airbnb has had a nightmare year. It paid out $260 million in relief to its hosts in late March, laid off 2,000 workers (about 25% of its staff) in May, and has seen its private valuation contract by a stunning $26 billion since the start of the year.

By the end of this year, the San Francisco-based company’s revenue will total less than half of the $4.8 billion it reeled in in 2019, but it’s at least trending in the right direction. Airbnb has been riding a comeback since early June, as Americans — still reticent to take their chances with a hotel — have started traveling domestically again and booking overnight stays. There has been notable growth for rural properties, located in areas “with fewer than 100 inhabitants per kilometer,” suggesting the brand’s original pitch (stay anywhere) has some staying power in a post-pandemic world.

That said, there is a chance Airbnb decides not to go through with its public offering. The stock market is in rebound mode right now (in fact, it’s had a record week) but in case that falls apart, or in the event that Airbnb itself falls apart, possibly due to a second wave of COVID-19 this fall, the “confidential” filing allows Airbnb to kick its IPO along the road, to early 2021.