Skift Take

Airbnb's fourth quarter financials show it is 10 times larger than Tripadvisor. They also provide clarity that Booking Holdings has a long way to go to catch Airbnb in short-term rental businesses. Airbnb's growing marketing spend in 2019 likely means that Google will have a welcome new partner in coming years.

Airbnb, which was preparing to go public in 2020, nearly doubled the size of its losses in the fourth quarter — and that was before coronavirus upended the global economy and daily life in many parts of the world.

In the first two months of 2020, Airbnb’s bookings plunged in key cities, including Beijing, Seoul, Rome, and Milan, according to AirDNA data.

Bloomberg reported that it got a look at privately held Airbnb’s fourth quarter financials, finding that its revenue leaped 32 percent to $1.1 billion partially on the shoulders of increased marketing spend, but earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) plunged 92.3 percent to a loss of $276.4 million.

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While Airbnb was profitable, according to Bloomberg, in 2017 and 2018, its bottom line turned red in 2019 as it hiked marketing spend in preparation of a public debut this year.

While we don’t know precisely how Airbnb calculates its earnings and whether it is an apples to apples comparison with adjusted EBITDA figures from its public company peers, the following chart we compiled sheds some directional light.

Fourth Quarter Financials

Q4 Revenue % Change Q4 Earnings* % Change
Booking Holdings $3.3 billion 3.92% $1.3 billion 2%
Expedia Group $2.7 billion 7% $478 million 1%
Airbnb $1.1 billion 32% ($276.4 million) (-92.3%)
Tripadvisor $335 million -3% $92 million 6%

Source: Bloomberg and public filings

Note: The public company earnings are adjusted EBITDA.

The following are takeaways from Airbnb’s fourth quarter financials:

1. Airbnb Is 3 Times Larger Than Tripadvisor

Well, we knew Airbnb was in the big leagues but its fourth quarter financials put some numbers behind that fact. Airbnb’s revenue numbers are confirmation that it is a major player despite its private company status. Airbnb is more than three times larger than Tripadvisor on a revenue basis, and about one-third the girth of Booking Holdings.

2. Booking Holdings Is a Formidable Competitor

Booking Holdings reported during its fourth quarter earnings call that it did $3.1 billion in 2019 revenue from alternative accommodations. If Airbnb did roughly $4 billion in revenue in 2019, then you’d have to consider that Booking Holdings is in the competitive conversation with Airbnb. That’s especially true when you consider that Airbnb’s revenue also includes some hotels, experiences, and tours.

3. Airbnb Isn’t as Different as It Says

Airbnb has long made the argument that it has a brand advantage over its online travel agency competitors in that it draws more direct traffic to its websites, and hence won’t have spend the gazillions that Booking Holdings and Expedia Group pay to Google. But Bloomberg’s report said $276.4 million in fourth quarter losses were driven by heightened marketing spending in preparation for its presumptive public-market debut in 2020.

4. Airbnb Won’t Be Able to Get Into the Black Until 2021

With $276.4 million in losses in just the fourth quarter and and an overall 2019 loss, according to Bloomberg, it seems highly unlikely, given the severe downturn that Airbnb and all of its peers are experiencing because of coronavirus, that Airbnb will be able to get into the black in 2020. That isn’t necessarily a negative, however. Airbnb’s competitors obviously face a highly challenging 2020, as well.

5. Airbnb Has Plenty of Money in the Bank

Despite its 2019 losses, Airbnb had more than $2 billion in the bank at the end of the year, according to Bloomberg. Like everyone else, Airbnb will have to undergo some severe financial engineering to get through 2020, but that $2 billion will help it navigate these unprecedented conditions.

6. Airbnb Is Growing Much Faster Than Competitors

While Airbnb competitors Booking Holdings, Expedia Group and Tripadvisor all notched single digit revenue gains or losses in the fourth quarter, Airbnb boosted its revenue at a much faster clip, 32 percent in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, it’s competitors were emphasizing profitability to shareholders while Airbnb was interested in portraying a growth story for the markets in anticipation of a public debut.

That public debut in 2020 may be very much in doubt under the circumstances.

Correction: The story initially said the Booking Holdings alternative accommodations’ business is a distant second to Airbnb’s, but with Booking reporting $3.1 billion in alternative accommodations revenue in 2019, actually their respective revenue numbers from short-term rentals are roughly comparable. Also, Airbnb’s revenue is more than three times larger than Tripadvisor’s, not 10 times larger as originally reported.

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Tags: airbnb, booking holdings, coronavirus

Photo credit: An Airbnb Plus property in Nashville, Tennessee. Airbnb piled up losses in the fourth quarter of 2019. Airbnb

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