Flights are out. Road trips are in.
Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, predicts that the coronavirus pandemic will permanently alter the way we travel, increasing the preference for driving at the expense of airlines.
“I will go on the record to say that travel will never, ever go back to the way it was pre-COVID; it just won’t,” Chesky, 38, tells news outlet Axios in a Zoom interview from his San Francisco home. “There are sometimes months when decades of transformation happen.”
The industry is undergoing even bigger change than it experienced during 2008’s Great Recession, he says. As a result, he sees the present and future of travel being more local and less plane-based.
“People are not getting on airplanes, they’re not crossing borders, they’re not meaningfully traveling to cities, they’re not traveling for business,” says Chesky. “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.”
Airbnb’s internal business data support this. The short-term home-renting company has seen in-country travel recover to pre-pandemic levels. International travel, on the other hand, remains decimated by the coronavirus. While air travel will eventually recover, Chesky predicts, the localization of vacation preferences will not.
“People will, one day, get back on planes,” he says. “But one of the things that I do think is a fairly permanent shift is … a redistribution of where travelers go.”
Mass tourism cites such as Rome, Paris and London will have less appeal to weary pandemic survivors, while national parks and small, nearby communities will become increasingly popular destinations.
“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,” Chesky says.
As well, when people travel, it is now much more likely to be for pleasure and not for business.
“I think a lot of people are going to realize they don’t need to get on an airplane to have a meeting. I mean, I met you in an office, but now we’re on Zoom,” Chesky concludes.