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Airbnb’s CEO on how COVID has changed travel forever

January 14, 2021, 7:58 PM UTC

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Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky believes the coronavirus pandemic will change how people travel for years to come.

“Travel is never going back to the way it was before the pandemic,” he said at the Reuters Next virtual forum on Thursday. “It doesn’t mean travel’s not coming back, it’s just not coming back the way it was.”

Airbnb, which had a blockbuster IPO last month, has been closely watching people’s travel habits after almost shuttering in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. The company cut 2,000 employees in May and refocused the business on its core services, namely home rentals and activities hosted by locals in their respective cities. 

Chesky made the following three predictions about how travel will change. 

Less work, more leisure

Chesky says people will reduce the number of times they hop on planes to attend business meetings and will instead conduct those virtually. That said, people will travel more often for pleasure than business.

“There’s a new type of business travel that will emerge…where people maybe work remotely but every quarter go back to their headquarters,” he said. “But I think people going on a plane for a meeting…is probably gone forever.”

Smaller cities will get more love

As people return to traveling, they’ll likely consider smaller communities, rural areas, and farm stays rather than just the top 50 cities, Chesky said. The pandemic has led more people go on road trips and explore less touristy areas, he added. This includes the 400 units managed by the National Park Service that, according to Chesky, most Americans haven’t visited. In this way, travel will be “redistributed” so that there won’t be purely tourist districts and purely residential districts, but rather a mix of both.

“San Francisco will back, New York will be back, but the playing field is now leveled,” he said.

Less sightseeing, more quality time

Beyond changing where people go, the pandemic also will likely change the main reason why people travel, Chesky said.

“They’re not yearning to go to Times Square; what they’re yearning to do is see their friends and their family,” he said. “Mass travel is going to be replaced by meaningful travel…and I think this is a semipermanent shift.”

Chesky suggests that people will still visit the landmarks of the world but at a reduced level, as they’ll be spending more time traveling to connect with loved ones.