Employees who worked on Airbnb’s marketing team in recent years have sometimes pondered a tantalizing question: What would happen to the company’s growth if it stopped spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on ads that appear high up in Google search results?
The pandemic may have given Airbnb the opportunity to test that path. As the coronavirus brought travel to a near standstill in March, the company abruptly halted online advertising to cut costs. The effects so far have been mixed. Even with scant marketing spending, Airbnb has started to see a rebound in bookings and website traffic. But Airbnb also has recovered more slowly than smaller competitors, including Expedia-owned Vrbo, which has been spending more aggressively on ads in recent months.