How Airbnb Angered Both Sides of Its Marketplace During the Pandemic

The rental platform’s Covid-19 response sparked a double backlash from guests and hosts

Dr. Shani Horowitz-Rozen
Marker

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Airbnb logo is seen displayed on a phone screen
Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Getty Images

In the first months of the pandemic, Airbnb’s model — along with the rest of the travel industry — was sent reeling. But although Airbnb has seen bookings begin to surge through the summer and filed to go public on August 19, its crises in the early days of the coronavirus still serve as a powerful reminder of the ongoing, complicated relationships Airbnb manages as a marketplace.

In late March and early April, as cities entered lockdowns and booking cancellations surged, Airbnb’s hosts were devastated by the sudden loss of income, and the company found itself torn between simply weathering the crisis and placating its stakeholders on all sides. According to AirDNA, which tracks the vacation rental market, Airbnb bookings across Europe dropped by 80% in one week in mid-March. Bookings in New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle dropped more than 50% compared to January. Trying to weather the crisis, Airbnb suspended all marketing activities, put its founders salaries on hold, and cut top executives salaries by half. It also eventually raised $1 billion in a new round of funding and $1 billion in debt in April and laid off nearly 25% of its employees on May 5.

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Dr. Shani Horowitz-Rozen
Marker
Writer for

Helping companies and executives tell their stories and focus their messages. Framing is everything