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The Airbnb logo is displayed at the Louvre in Paris on March 12, 2019.CHARLES PLATIAU/Reuters

Airbnb Inc reported better-than-expected gross bookings on Thursday in its first quarterly earnings report since going public, indicating a strong rebound in demand for vacation rentals in North America as COVID-19 pandemic curbs ease.

Leisure travelers in the company’s biggest market stepped out to nearby locations that could be accessed by a car and are within 50 miles, lifting daily booking rates up by 13 per cent, Airbnb said.

Even though the health crisis initially forced it to cut jobs, the U.S. vacation rental firm outperformed hotel operators who rely more on business travel, throughout 2020, thanks to its large share of ‘sun, ski, and suburban’ rental homes.

“Nights booked prior to cancellations in North America were close to the levels reached in the same quarter of 2019,” the company said.

Airbnb expects wider vaccine rollouts in 2021 to help a significant rebound in travel. It said both nights booked as well as gross bookings in the current quarter are expected to be higher than a year ago, but lower than the same period in 2019.

The company’s gross bookings fell 31 per cent to $5.9 billion in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, but beat market expectation of $5.17 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Nights and experiences booked at Airbnb dropped 39 per cent to 46.3 million units, but was better than the Wall Street’s estimate of a 47 per cent drop.

Business in Europe was the most affected in the quarter due to travel curbs as a result of surging coronavirus infections.

Airbnb’s overall revenue fell 22 per cent to $859 million, while adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization shrank to about $21 million from $276.4 million, a year earlier, helped by cost cuts.

Analysts on average expected Airbnb to post revenue of $747.4 million and adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization of $122 million.

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