Airbnb Before, During and After COVID-19

First Published in 2021 by The University of Queensland

Copyright © The University of Queensland, 2021



eISBN: 978-1-74272-321-1


Please cite as:

Dolnicar, S. (Ed.). (2021). Airbnb before, during and after COVID-19. University of Queensland, DOI: 10.14264/ab59afd



Editorial and publishing support by Jenna Farmer and Elena Danilova

Video-production by John Anderson

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Cover design by Vicky Zhang


This book is copyright

Creative Commons by Attribution Open Access Licence

Open access published under the CC BY license


The University of Queensland, St Lucia QLD, Australia

Airbnb Before, During and After COVID-19

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Airbnb Before, During and After COVID-19 by Ed. Sara Dolnicar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Acknowledgement of Country


We gratefully acknowledge the Traditional Owners and their custodianship of the lands on which this project originated, this country known as Australia, where Aboriginal people have lived and practiced their culture for many thousands of years. We pay our respects to their Ancestors and their descendants, who continue cultural and spiritual connections to Country. We recognise their valuable contributions to Australian and global society. Learn more about The University of Queensland’s Reconciliation Action Plan
We gratefully acknowledge the Traditional Owners and their custodianship of the lands on which this project originated, this country known as Australia, where Aboriginal people have lived and practiced their culture for many thousands of years. We pay our respects to their Ancestors and their descendants, who continue cultural and spiritual connections to Country. We recognise their valuable contributions to Australian and global society.

Learn more about The University of Queensland’s Reconciliation Action Plan



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When Airbnb first entered the Australian market, I was hugely fascinated by it. Having studied tourism for many years, I was amazed by all the novel and unique features that made such a remarkably successful space trading platform. People who wanted to sell space rejected booking requests. In which other contexts does the seller refuse to sell? Fascinating. Guests developed peer-to-peer accommodation CVs, publicly displaying their performance across their entire booking history. In which other context does a buyer have to prove that they are worthy of buying a product or service? Airbnb also offers a unique opportunity for micro-segmentation because it allows guests to browse seven million different spaces. It is hard to imagine that guests would not be able to find a space that is perfect for them, if they just searched long enough. In the early years of its operation, Airbnb was a truly unique and fascinating phenomenon for tourism researchers to investigate. A few colleagues of mine, who shared my fascination with Airbnb, joined me in writing the book Peer-to-Peer Accommodation Networks – Pushing the Boundaries (

After we published this book, I quickly started to lose interest in Airbnb because – as the years went by – Airbnb became rather uninteresting. It was assimilating. Most of its unique features disappeared because Airbnb saw the opportunity to maximise its profits by giving up distinctiveness, and because some of Airbnb’s unique features were criticised as facilitating discriminatory behaviour of its hosts. Photos of guests were no longer shown to hosts as part of a booking request. And the wide uptake of Instant Book – a setting hosts can choose on to allow tourists to book the space without having to wait for host approval – made the Airbnb booking experience much like that on any other online travel agent’s webpage. The increased interest from profit-oriented investors – who purchased and set up houses and apartments for the sole purpose of renting them out on – led to the professionalisation and commercialisation of the listings on Soon, Airbnb became indistinguishable from online travel agencies, finding itself in competition with The expansion from trading accommodation only to trading also Experiences did little to re-establish uniqueness. By the end of 2019, the main points of differentiation in Airbnb’s positioning had vanished. And with it my scholarly interest in Airbnb.

Then, in 2020, COVID-19 shocked the tourism industry globally in a way no one could have imagined. According to the United National World Tourism Organisation (2020), COVID-19 reduced international tourism to levels last seen 30 years ago. Airbnb’s revenue, after years of growth, dropped by 72%, forcing it to let go of 1,500 staff members and to fundamentally rethink its positioning. At the end of 2020, despite COVID-19, Airbnb still had 2.9 million hosts and more than seven million listings across 2002 countries and 100,000 cities globally (Deane, 2020). Some 4,000 new hosts sign up to Airbnb every month (Deane, 2020). Yet, the founders of Airbnb did some soul-searching during COVID-19 and concluded that Airbnb needs to go back to its roots of supporting communities. Airbnb also formalised their space donation activities by founding an independent non-profit organisation called

My fascination with Airbnb was re-ignited. Together with my colleagues the idea for a new book was born – a book that would explore the evolution of Airbnb, focusing specifically on the changes triggered by COVID-19, while also shining a light on aspects of Airbnb which have received little attention, such as their pioneering role in altruistic space donation before, during and after COVID-19.


Sara Dolnicar

Brisbane, 2021


Deane, S. (2020) 2020 Airbnb statistics: usage, demographics, and revenue growth, retrieved on December 24, 2020 from‑statistics/#:~:text=According%20to%20Airbnb%20data%20there,active%20Airbnb%20listings%20in%202020

United Nations World Tourism Organisation (2020) Impact assessment of the COVID-19 outbreak on international tourism, retrieved on December 24, 2020 from



Kathy Babiak is a management and organization scholar. She is currently an associate professor at the University of Michigan. Her research interests examine exploring strategic change, decision-making, partnerships and alliances, and social responsibility across an array of settings and contexts including sport and recreation. She is interested in understanding how sport organisations and events can impact communities from an economic, social, and political perspective. Dr. Babiak is the Director of the Michigan Center for Sport and Social Responsibility. In this role, she works with a research team of global scholars whose work advances understanding of the role of sport organisations and business in society.

Follow Kathy on Twitter @kathybabiak

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Sara Dolnicar is a Professor of Tourism at the University of Queensland. She has a particular interest in empirical measurement in the social sciences, and has applied her work primarily to tourism, but has also contributed to the areas of environmental volunteering, foster care and public acceptance of water alternatives. Her current research program focuses on developing and experimentally testing measures that trigger pro-environmental behaviour in tourists. In recognition of her achievements, Professor Dolnicar was elected a Fellow of the Academy for the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA), the International Academy for the Study of Tourism, the International Association of Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST), and the Council for Australasian Tourism and Hospitality Education (CAUTHE). In 2019, she was awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship to leave a creative and human legacy relating to her research into low harm hedonism. Professor Dolnicar currently serves as the co-editor-in-chief of Annals of Tourism Research. She was awarded the Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA) Distinguished Researcher Award in 2017, and named the Slovenian Ambassador of Science in 2016, the highest honour the Republic of Slovenia bestows on expatriate Slovenian researchers in recognition of global excellence, impact, and knowledge transfer. In 2020, Professor Dolnicar commenced her Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship which will develop – as part of the Low Harm Hedonism Initiative – a new theory and a suite of practical measures to make consumers behave in more environmentally sustainable ways in enjoyment-focused contexts.

Follow Sara Dolnicar on Twitter @SaraDolnicar

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TEDx UQ talk

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FREE online tourism course

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Twitter: #LowHarmHedonism


Sheranne Fairley is an Associate Professor at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on sport tourism, event leveraging, and volunteers. Sheranne has a strong track record of publishing in highly ranked academic journals, including Tourism Management, Annals of Tourism Research, and Journal of Sport Management, Sport Management Review, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Journal of Leisure Research, Tourism Recreation Research, and Event Management. She is a North American Society of Sport Management (NASSM) Research Fellow.

Sheranne is the editor-in-chief of Sport Management Review (impact factor 3.516; the top ranked sport management journal). She is currently an associate editor for Leisure Sciences, and an editorial board member of the Journal of Sport Management, Journal of Sport & Tourism, the Journal of Global Sport Management, and Sport and Entertainment Review.

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Sarah Gardiner has a PhD in Marketing and over 25 years’ experience in the tourism industry. She is the Deputy Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism and Senior Lecturer at Griffith University, Australia. Her research is published in leading tourism academic journals and she has written several book chapters on the topics of travel consumer behaviour, travel trends, experience design and innovation. She regularly delivers presentations, consultancies and training for government and industry in these areas and is often asked to provide expert comment to media on tourism issues. She has a particularly interested in youth and adventure tourism.

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Ljubica Kneževic Cvelbar is a full professor at the School of Business and Economics, University of Ljubljana and a visiting professor at more than 30 universities worldwide. She holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Ljubljana, with her expertise in the fields of tourism economics and sustainable development. Ljubica has 15 years of academic and professional experience as a professor, researcher and consultant. She has been involved as a researcher or consultant in more than 50 projects including European Commission funded projects, UNDP grants, research and consulting projects for national governments of Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Montenegro as well as many consultancy projects for local municipalities and SMEs. She has published more than 40 papers in refereed tourism journals including top-tier journals such as: Journal of Travel Research, Annals of Tourism Research and Journal of Sustainable Tourism. Her research work has made significant impact on sustainable tourism development globally and she has been awarded with some of the most prominent international scientific awards in tourism including the Thea Sinclair Award for Article Excellence (2016, 2019) and the 2019 Charles R. Goeldner Article of Excellence Award. Ljubica also serves as an editorial board member on six international academic journals and is member of the International Association of Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST).

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Lan Liu is a third year Masters student majoring in tourism at Shandong University, China. Her research interest centres on online accommodation and OTA. She also works for rural tourism planning and rural revitalization programs in a municipal government of Hebei Province, China. She is currently working on her Masters thesis which is focused on the risk management issues of online accommodation platforms in China with Tujia as the case study.


Sarah MacInnes is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland in the School of Business. She completed her Bachelor of Psychological Science (first class honours) at the University of Queensland, and her honours thesis topic was investigating the integrated self-categorisation theory of autism. Her current primary interests are the psychological underpinnings to pro-environmental behaviour (namely habit) and experimental design, both of which are applied to tourism in her PhD topic. She is part of the Low Harm Hedonism Initiative, a research team investigating the reduction of harm in enjoyment-focused contexts.

Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMacInnes3

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Watch Sarah’s CAUTHE 2021 presentation on the role of habit in tourist behaviour

Twitter: #LowHarmHedonism


Melanie Randle is a Professor of Marketing in the School of Business at the University of Wollongong (UOW). She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Administration, a Master of Business (Marketing) and a Doctor of Philosophy. Melanie’s research focuses on applying marketing techniques to change attitudes and behaviours in ways that improve outcomes for both individuals and society as a whole. Her research focuses primarily on vulnerable populations and has included studies which aim to increase numbers of volunteers, attract more foster carers, achieve greater inclusion of people with disabilities, encourage pro-environmental behaviours, and reduce problem gambling. She has led large-scale Australian Research Council projects funded through the Discovery and Linkage schemes, and has long-term industry collaborations in the non-profit and government sectors. Melanie is currently a member of the Australian Research Council College of Experts and also serves as associate editor for Annals of Tourism Research Empirical Insights. She also holds the role of Associate Dean (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) in the Faculty of Business and Law and is responsible for driving equity and diversity outcomes, and leading related culture and staff development initiatives within the Faculty. She has also previously served as Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Business and Chair of the UOW Social Sciences Human Research Ethics Committee.

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Stephan Reinhold is a Senior Lecturer in Tourism Studies at the Linnaeus University in Sweden and a Research Associate at Universität St. Gallen in Switzerland. He has a particular interest in strategic decision-making, practice, and cognition with a nexus to tourism, transportation, and related network and service industries. His current research focuses on business models in tourism and flow-based destination management. Dr Reinhold is a founding member of the Alliance for Innovators and Researchers in Tourism and Hospitality (AIRTH). He currently serves on the editorial review boards of Tourism Review and of Annals of Tourism Research Empirical Insights.

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Damjan Vavpotič is a Vice-Dean, Head of the Laboratory for Information Systems and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Computer and Information Science, University of Ljubljana. He has been actively involved in several European and national projects and in numerous marketing projects. In the field of tourism, he is currently actively involved in the project Tourism 4.0, and also participated in the development of guidelines for destination management based on carrying capacity and tourism flow models. He has published more than 50 articles in journals and conferences and is a member of the program committees of several international conferences. An important area of ​​his research work is advanced data analysis methods in tourism, and he received the Thea Sinclair Award for Journal Article Excellence in 2019 from Sage Publishing for a publication.

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Dorine von Briel is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland. She studies ways to reduce environmentally harmful behaviours in pleasure-seeking contexts. In 2020, she joined the Low Harm Hedonism Initiative led by Professor Sara Dolnicar. Her current projects focus on understanding how the negative environmental impact of tourists can be reduced when they stay at hotels. Prior to joining academia, Dorine worked in international event management and organised large conferences and cultural shows in Cannes, Paris, Hong Kong and Brisbane.

Follow Dorine von Briel on Twitter @DorinevBriel

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Watch Dorine’s CAUTHE 2021 presentation on how much hotel guests value non-core hotel services that burden the environment

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Yixiao Xiang is an associate professor of tourism management in the School of Management, Shandong University, China. She received her PhD from the Faculty of Environmental Studies, University of Waterloo, Canada. Her research interests are heritage tourism and community studies (particularly tourism and local communities on and around world heritage sites in China), politics of tourism planning and management in China, and tourism sustainability. She has published more than 15 research papers in academic journals, book chapters, and conference proceedings, and has been invited as a reviewer for several peer-reviewed tourism journals. She has been actively involved in IUCN World Natural Heritage evaluation work by invitation for the past two years.


Samira Zare has a PhD in Management and Commerce with tourism specialisation from James Cook University, Australia. Currently, she works at the University of Queensland as a sessional academic. She has research experience in the areas of destination marketing, travel memories and peer-to-peer accommodation networks and intercultural studies. Her current interests include but are not limited to: tourist behaviour, sustainable tourism, experience design, and luxury tourism. In 2020 she was highly commended in the Emerald and EFMD Outstanding Doctoral Research awards for her PhD thesis titled Recall and post-trip evaluation of tourist destinations: the effect of travel order. Samira serves as a reviewer in a number of prestigious journals such as Annals of Tourism Research, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and Journal of Destination Management and Marketing.

Follow Samira on Twitter @SamiraZaree

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