Home / Tech / Rural Airbnbs are the stars of the suddenly struggling vacation-rental platform, as Americans flee cities to escape the coronavirus

Rural Airbnbs are the stars of the suddenly struggling vacation-rental platform, as Americans flee cities to escape the coronavirus

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  • Airbnbs in some rural areas saw a surge in bookings last week even as travel ground to halt across most of the US, according to AirDNA.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has taken a huge toll on Airbnb as well as many hosts who have had to refund guests after the company overrode their cancellation policies.
  • However, as Americans flee COVID-19 hotspots in large cities, some surrounding areas are actually seeing record-high bookings.
  • The trend may be temporary, as the US has yet to see the full economic fallout from the virus, but it shows that, so far, not all regions have been equally hurt.
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With one in three Americans now under some form of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the travel industry is taking a beating. That includes Airbnb, which has seen bookings tank around the world as people are forced to cancel trips.

But Airbnb properties in some rural parts of the country seem to have defied that trend so far, and some even saw an uptick in business last week, according to vacation rental data company AirDNA.

As major cities like New York and San Francisco see an explosion of COVID-19 cases, residents are departing for their smaller hometowns or neighboring communities in an attempt to stay safe, spread out, or be closer to family — even though that could mean carrying the virus into new parts of the country and burdening already ill-equipped healthcare systems.

“Alongside the advent of social distancing, we’ve noticed a similar trend in U.S. vacation rental markets: travelers fleeing urban centers and heading towards homes just outside the city,” the company said in a blog post published Monday.

Approximately 73% of Airbnb revenue in the first half of March was made outside of large urban centers, while rural listings were the only ones that saw a “significant” gains from the same period last year, compared with urban and suburban listings, according to AirDNA.

The US is still several weeks behind many other countries in terms of when cases first began appearing, meaning it the full impact likely hasn’t been seen yet. But the analysis suggests a small, if temporary, bright spot for Airbnb — and some hosts, who have been particularly hard hit by travel slowdowns.

As the pandemic has escalated, Airbnb has gradually expanded its policies to allow more guests to call off trips and still get full refunds. But in doing so, it overrode hosts’ own cancellation policies, leaving many angry that they’ve had to bear the bulk of the financial cost of those refunds.

Airbnb has been trying to strike a delicate balance between the interests not just of guests and hosts, but also of investors, who had concerns about Airbnb’s reported losses even before the virus hit that have intensified now that the company’s plans to go public this year could get delayed.

While the spike in rural bookings likely won’t make up for Airbnb’s other losses, it does offer some insight into how Americans across the country have responded to the virus and what that means for hosts.

Airbnbs in the least crowded locations saw business grow the most in March as Americans tried to escape densely populated areas.

Northern and Midwestern states in particular have shown more resilience to coronavirus-related fallout so far.

Smaller “destination” locations within driving distance of large urban areas have seen the biggest jump in bookings during March.