Room and gloom: has coronavirus brought Airbnb to its knees?

World

Room and gloom: has coronavirus brought Airbnb to its knees?

The company has long profited from buyers and sellers. Now both have gone belly up, and it might not survive

Laurence Dodds and James Titcomb

At first Tushar Bhatia thought everyone was overreacting. The 37-year-old business strategist, who lives in Seattle with his wife and their young child, saw no reason to take his spare room off Airbnb despite the worrying headlines.

Yet, one day in late February he found himself hesitating when a new guest offered to shake his hand. Out of politeness, he gave in, then rushed to the bathroom to thoroughly scrub his hands. That was when he realised everything was about to change.

That experience, at the site of America’s first big coronavirus outbreak, has spread to Airbnb hosts across the world. The income they have counted on for 11 years has been wiped out almost overnight by a global travel shutdown which has brought one of the world’s brightest tech start-ups to its knees...

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