Escaping Covid-19: Here’s where people are fleeing — and avoiding

Airbnb listing data shows short-term rentals tanking in major cities

Data show where people are looking for Airbnbs, and where they are fleeing, as #COVID19 spreads across the US (Credit: AirDNA)
Data show where people are looking for Airbnbs, and where they are fleeing, as #COVID19 spreads across the US (Credit: AirDNA)

Where would you rather be holed up, in a Manhattan apartment or a country home?

If it’s the latter, you’re not alone.

New data from Airbnb analysis website AirDNA shows travelers are fleeing cities for rural and coastal areas as the coronavirus sweeps across the U.S.

In most of Manhattan, where cases have surged in recent weeks, Airbnb revenue has fallen 66 percent from the same time last year, the report said.

Meanwhile, rentals in towns outside the city, including Riverhead and Westhampton Beach, have surged. Fairfield, Conn., and Rumson, N.J., have also surged.

The full impact on the short-term rental market is yet to become clear: The data is limited to March, and AirDNA notes that the economic effects of Covid-19 did not start kicking in until the middle of the month.

Major cities such as New York have traditionally been boon markets for Airbnb, but high population density now appears to correlate with tumbling revenue as cities go into social-distancing lockdown. As of Tuesday, New York had 25,665 confirmed cases of the virus — the most of any state — with nearly 60 percent of them in New York City.

So far in March, 73 percent of Airbnb’s U.S. revenue has been from outside urban centers, the data showed.

March bookings were down 11 percent in Chicago while spiking in holiday spots of neighboring Grand Haven, Niles and Michigan City, the data showed.

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(Credit: AirDNA)

(Credit: AirDNA)

The biggest uptick in reservations in March were at Pacific Beach, Washington, where there was a 378 percent increase in bookings in the week starting March 16 compared with the previous week. The state of Washington had 2,469 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 123 deaths as of Tuesday. Seattle, where an early wave of cases grabbed the nation’s attention, is the state’s most populous city.

The next-highest upticks were in Sanibel, Florida (324 percent), and Napa, California (238 percent).

With forecasts that the pandemic in the U.S. will get worse before it gets better, AirDNA predicts urban and suburban markets will continue to decline, going forward, while rural markets will perform well.

Airbnb, which has had a strained relationship with third-party sites that scrape its data, declined to comment on the report or release any of its own data to counter it.

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The pandemic has dealt a significant blow to the company, which has sustained hundreds of millions of dollars in losses this year and is considering seeking capital from outside investors, according to the Wall Street Journal. The pandemic has also imperiled Airbnb’s initial public offering, slated for this year.

As the company scrambles for stability in an unpredictable climate, it is also facing pushback from its hosts who are unhappy that Airbnb expanded its “extenuating circumstance” policy to allow guests with bookings made before March 14 to cancel without penalty and reclaim deposits held for hosts.

Last week the company called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to consider several tax breaks for hosts — one of many companies to seek federal assistance.

Write to Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at