Airbnb (NASDAQ:ABNB) jumped out of the gate following its IPO last month, and it's easy to see why.

The company is disrupting the massive travel industry, having pioneered the home-sharing concept for over a decade. And it just survived its toughest test yet during the coronavirus pandemic, adapting to shifting demand and recovering most of its lost sales within months, demonstrating its advantage over hotels.

Airbnb hasn't even been public for a month, but the stock could be poised for a surge in 2021. Here's why.

An Airbnb stay in an Airstream under a tent

Image source: Airbnb.

Pent-up travel demand

The global industry travel has been crushed by the pandemic as fears of the virus have dashed vacation and business trip plans. Air passenger numbers in the U.S. are still down more than 50%, where they've been since March, and almost every travel-related business, including airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and ridesharing services, has been decimated by the crisis.

However, that's likely to change once it's safe to travel again, and -- with vaccines rolling out now -- that could happen as soon as this summer. There are already signs of pent-up demand for experiences that were unavailable during the pandemic, like restaurants, live entertainment, and travel.

Australia offers one example. The country went into lockdown last summer -- their winter -- and emerged from it in September. Since then, the country has been experiencing only about 20 coronavirus cases a day. In December, traffic to Airbnb's Australian site reached 7.85 million visits, or double what it was in August. Trends are similar in hotels, with demand for accommodations up 20%-30% over the last three months, according to Google data. 

A number of travel operators have reported surges in reservations for this summer, especially for "bucket list" trips to places like Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands, which are already sold out in 2021. Hilton found in an October survey that 95% of Americans are missing travel right now, and 94% of respondents plan to travel once restrictions are lifted.

A surge in travel seems pretty much guaranteed once the pandemic ends, and Airbnb could be the biggest beneficiary -- the company has more listings than any hotel chain, and is spread around the world in a diverse array of locales and accommodations.

A slimmed-down cost structure

Airbnb was actually profitable in 2018, but the company reported a loss in 2019 as it invested in new areas like Experiences, Airbnb Plus, Airbnb Luxe, and hotels. However, last May, during the depths of the crisis, Airbnb laid off about 1,900 employees, or about a quarter of its total, which it expects to save $400 million-$500 million a year; the company has also cut spending in other ways as well. Those moves should help drive the company's profitability once demand returns, and a combination of a spike in revenue from pent-up demand and a slimmer cost structure could lead to bumper profits. 

Additionally, after raising $3.5 billion in its IPO, the company is flush with cash and ready to invest in new opportunities as they arise. Considering the fallout from the pandemic in the travel industry, Airbnb may be able to make some strategic acquisitions and accelerate its market share gains. Past acquisitions have included Luxury Retreats, a luxury vacation rental site, and HotelTonight, a last-minute hotel booking app. 

A great market environment

Tech stocks have surged during the pandemic, and loose monetary policy along with another expected stimulus package from the Biden administration have continued to push stocks higher. Airbnb would be a direct beneficiary of such stimulus spending, which will encourage spending on travel and vacationing once it's safe to do so.

As a leader of a fast-growing industry and one with a strong business model as an online marketplace, Airbnb has many of the makings of a market darling. In a roaring bull market, investors are likely to cheer any good news out of the stock. If the company can deliver strong initial earnings reports and the pandemic fades by the summer, Airbnb stock could have all the makings for a monster year.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.