As we’re watching new infections of the novel coronavirus come down from their peak earlier this year, multiple businesses are anxiously holding their breath. But perhaps no sector wants a return to normal more so than lodgings and hospitality. That includes technology firm Airbnb (NASDAQ:ABNB). Pre-pandemic, ABNB stock was a hotly anticipated initial public offering. Today, the narrative is far less clear.
Unlike other economic segments, the hospitality industry in general had very little means to mitigate the crisis. For instance, restaurants, while badly devastated from the pandemic, could still shift their business to accommodate takeout orders and deliveries. But with lodging, there’s no such option. It’s a binary business — either you’re staying or you’re not.
Further, not many people wanted to go out and about. It’s one thing to go get groceries — it’s an essential task and you’re probably not going to spend more than an hour or two at a particular location. But at a hotel where you could be exposed to who knows what? That’s just not an attractive proposition.
As evidence, a Deloitte survey late last year revealed that most Americans were unwilling to go watch a movie at the box office until mid-2021. That’s not an encouraging sign if you’re long ABNB stock.
Even more problematic is that Airbnb isn’t a professional lodging service. As our own Lou Carlozo bluntly — and amusingly — put it:
The bottom line is that when I close my eyes and imagine myself in an Airbnb rental, I squeeze past the homeowner who’s just coughed a green streak all over my suitcase. Only I don’t know it. Remember, by Airbnb’s own sector definition, you are…sharing. Someone’s. Home. Finding a dirty spoon in their silverware drawer is child’s play compared to this.
Steadily, of course, people are getting over their fears, which is encouraging for ABNB stock. But is this sentiment high enough on the magnitude chart to take a shot?
ABNB Stock Could Suffer from Ugly Acts of Hatred
A key tragedy regarding ABNB stock is that the underlying business is a compelling one, much like Uber (NYSE:UBER) or Lyft (NASDAQ:LYFT). Airbnb is part of the gig economy, which broadly allows individuals to provide services — through advanced connectivity mediums — directly to the consumer without having to pass through a middleman or other intermediary layer.
Thus, it’s possible without the coronavirus that ABNB stock would be in much different situation. The pandemic was obviously not Airbnb’s fault, yet the company is suffering the consequences. Neither are the resultant hate crimes that have sprouted across the globe, yet this may be the one that hurts the organization for the long haul.
As the Pew Research Center reported, negative opinions about China have reached historical highs across multiple nations. Unfortunately, in the U.S., Canada and western Europe, this negative sentiment has translated to hate crimes against all people of Asian descent.
By now, we all know about Asian hate in this country. What’s less reported — because it doesn’t fit a convenient narrative — is Asian hate in supposedly tolerant Europe. For instance, in February, a trio of hooded thugs attacked a group of Japanese citizens in Paris, France with acid.
Paris is one of the most popular destination spots for Airbnb guests.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, Chinese tourists began flexing their newfound wealth through international travel. Sure enough, forums began sprouting everywhere about how to best serve Chinese guests, including questions and answers about cultures and customs.
Now, this story has completely turned on its head. If some Americans treat Americans of Asian descent with contempt, I can’t imagine that they’d treat Asians from Asia with a welcoming spirit. Besides, it’s easy to discriminate on lodging platforms — so long as you don’t publicly broadcast bigoted views — because discrimination is extremely difficult to prove.
Why It Matters for Us All
In 2019, Chinese tourists spent more than a quarter of a trillion dollars while traveling abroad. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the U.S. economy desperately needs those tourism dollars. I believe I mentioned this before but tourism dollars are basically completely accretive, pure profit for our hotels, restaurants, sporting and entertainment venues and whatever else you can think of.
It’s not a new topic. The South China Morning Post reported that many international destination spots were hoping for the return of Chinese travelers. However, “economic concerns, travel bans and geopolitics” have gotten in the way. You can now add racism to the list of challenges.
Granted, many if not most Americans, Canadians and Europeans feel raw about Chinese governmental obfuscation of the novel coronavirus. As you can tell from growing media reports, there’s a large segment of the global population that are sending a message to Beijing’s communist leadership by attacking random Asian people.
To such psychopaths, this might feel like street justice. To Airbnb, it’s the worst possible outcome. Hidden in its latest calls to stop the violence is likely fear that Asia is going to close its tourism wallet to the west. If so, that’s bad news for ABNB stock.
On the date of publication, Josh Enomoto did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.
A former senior business analyst for Sony Electronics, Josh Enomoto has helped broker major contracts with Fortune Global 500 companies. Over the past several years, he has delivered unique, critical insights for the investment markets, as well as various other industries including legal, construction management, and healthcare.