Will travel ever be like it was before the coronavirus pandemic? The CEO of Airbnb doesn’t think so.
Brian Chesky, who is also the company’s co-founder, was recently interviewed remotely via walkie talkie (just kidding) by the news outlet Axios. International travel is forever changed, he opined, adding that he thinks domestic travel—particularly short road trips—will become even more popular.
“I will go on the record to say that travel will never, ever go back to the way it was pre-COVID,” Chesky said. “It just won’t. There are sometimes months when decades of transformation happen.”
He cited Airbnb’s own internal data to support his assertions, and said that travel has been impacted far more significantly by the coronavirus pandemic than it was in 2007-08 by the Great Recession, which began when the US housing market bubble—a house of cards constructed on a foundation of junk securities backed by bad mortgages and predatory lending practices—popped.
“People are not getting on airplanes, they’re not crossing borders, they’re not meaningfully traveling to cities, they’re not traveling for business,” Chesky said.
According to his company’s data, people are still traveling, but they are doing so via automobile and typically staying within 200 miles of their homes.
“They’re getting in cars. They’re traveling to communities that are 200 miles away or less. These are usually very small communities. They’re staying in homes and they’re staying longer.”
Chesky says domestic travel is already back to pre-COVID levels. But he simply doesn’t think international travel will ever bounce all the way back.
“People will, one day, get back on planes. But one of the things that I do think is a fairly permanent shift is … a redistribution of where travelers go.”
He went on to offer his own theory about what the future holds for travelers. Before the pandemic, he said, people from around the world went to “Rome, Paris, London, they stay in the hotel district, they get on the double-decker bus. They wait in line to get a selfie in front of a landmark.”
That is going to change, in his view:
“I think that’s going to get smaller as a percentage of travel in the future, and I think it’s going to get somewhat displaced, or at least balanced, by people visiting smaller communities.”