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Concerns rise over Airbnb's future; Greek property owners flee

With cancellations on its platform skyrocketing and revenues plummeting, the company is looking forward to a strong recovery next year but there are doubts as to whether it will be in a position to take advantage of a rebounding global economy. As seen in the Greek market, many homeowners are taking their assets from the platform. Indicative of this trend is data from Spitogatos.gr showing a sharp rise in properties for rent in the last 30 days (the increase reaches 44 percent, depending on the area), with most of them furnished or newly renovated.

The global economic downturn created by the coronavirus has uncovered weaknesses in Airbnb's business model, in Greece and abroad, raising concerns among analysts and experts about the future of the company in its current form.

Although company plans to go public in 2020 remain on the table - for now - Airbnb suddenly found itself with its back against the wall, like all tourism companies hit hard by the pandemic.

Just about immediately, however, investor confidence was shaken in Airbnb, a company that up until recently was one of the global economic stage's favorite startups.

In an agreement for a one billion dollar cash boost the company made with Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners a few weeks ago, the interest rate set was a pricey 10 percent. This compares with yields at about the same rate offered on junk bonds. The deal also priced the company at around $18 billion, down from $31 billion in 2017.

With cancellations on its platform skyrocketing and revenues plummeting, the company is looking forward to a strong recovery next year but there are doubts as to whether it will be in a position to take advantage of a rebounding global economy.

As seen in the Greek market, many homeowners are taking their assets from the platform. Indicative of this trend is data from Spitogatos.gr showing a sharp rise in properties for rent in the last 30 days (the increase reaches 44 percent, depending on the area), with most of them furnished or newly renovated.

A change of strategy is being adopted by homeowners, now eyeing longer-term leases in a trend also appearing in other cities, such as London. Airbnb's switch to longer-term rentals has already started and could be its future. This shift in strategy would also allow local residents to rent properties from Airbnb, silencing the company's many critics.

On its main page, Airbnb has published a message promoting homes «for monthly stays or longer» in a share of the market that may be less profitable but is considered to be more steady than short term leases.

Competitors have already benefitted from this new trend. More properties for rent are now being listed on Spitogatos, while other potential winners include another favorites startup, Blueground.

The coronavirus is also giving a fresh opportunity to local authorities to implement tighter checks on homes offered to travelers for just a few days, making the platforms less attractive to some property owners.

In Prague, the Czech parliament's lower chamber approved a plan allowing municipal authorities to better collect tax and information on short term leases.

In Greece, the Panhellenic Hoteliers Federation and the Hotel Chamber of Greece called for the suspension of all homes leased on Airbnb, citing public health concerns.

The proposal drew a strong reaction from Greece's Home Sharing Association, which described it as «an absurd and disgusting all-out attack on the status of short-term real estate leases». The proposal is unlikely to be adopted though the legal voids that Airbnb was built upon for many years, could end up being its biggest weakness.

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