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Airbnb says IPO plans are back on track

San Francisco

AIRBNB has resumed its efforts to go public, despite significant damage to the home rental business caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Airbnb's chief executive, Brian Chesky, told employees on Wednesday.

The San Francisco company, once valued by investors at US$31 billion, had planned to file in March to go public, but set aside those plans when the pandemic halted travel around the world.

Since then, Airbnb has slashed costs, raised emergency funding and laid off a quarter of its staff, around 1,900 people.

On a video conference with employees, Mr Chesky indicated that the company's gross bookings - a sum that includes money paid to hosts - had rebounded in recent weeks from their nose-dive.

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He added that the trend could change as lockdowns returned in some parts of the United States.

Airbnb also announced that Catherine Powell, the company's head of experiences, would take a new role as global head of hosting as Greg Greeley, president of the homes division, left the company. Hiroki Asai, an 18-year veteran of Apple, will join Airbnb to lead its marketing.

The company is trying to repair its relationship with its hosts, who supply the rentals for its platform and whose income has dried up with travel halted.

Many were outraged when Airbnb allowed guests to cancel nonrefundable bookings as the pandemic spread. Mr Chesky earlier apologised to hosts for how the decision was communicated.

In response to the virus, Airbnb has adapted its offerings, including creating new cleaning initiatives, selling access to "virtual" activities done over video streaming and promoting rentals in rural areas within driving distance.

The company is under pressure from its workers to go public, as shares held by early employees will begin to expire this year.

Mr Chesky closed the meeting by declaring that Airbnb is back. "We are not committing to going public this year, but we are not ruling it out either," he said. "When the market is ready, we will be ready, because Airbnb was down but we were not out." NYTIMES

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