Airbnb (ABNB 2.42%) is set to report second-quarter earnings on Thursday, Aug. 12. Folks will be watching the global travel facilitator to see how its customers are responding to two concurrent trends: reopening economies and the spread of the coronavirus delta variant.

The company is likely to be one of the prime beneficiaries of reopening economies. Many people have delayed taking trips because of the pandemic, and the unleashing of pent-up demand could be favorable for Airbnb. Simultaneously, the spread of the delta variant could cause travelers to be more cautious.

That's why the one metric to pay close attention to this quarter is unearned fees, which are reservations made but not yet experienced. It will give insight into people's confidence in making travel plans for the rest of the year. 

Two women arriving to a room with luggage in tow.

Airbnb stock is up 1.9% year to date. Image source: Getty Images.

A phased recovery in travel  

In its fiscal first quarter, Airbnb reported unearned fees of $946 million. That was a 43% increase from the same quarter a year ago. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into the usual seasonal patterns of travel. Normally, the summer season is the largest for travel, as kids are home from school and the weather is usually the warmest. In 2020, unearned fees were highest in Airbnb's second quarter.

As a shareholder, you would like to see two things from this metric: a sequential increase from the first quarter and an increase in year-over-year growth. Since the company reported first-quarter results, billions of people have been vaccinated against COVID-19, making them more likely to be interested in traveling. If that does not induce an increase in reservations, it could indicate the spread of the delta variant is having a stronger negative effect on consumer travel than previously expected. 

In the U.S., where coronavirus vaccines were widely available earlier in the year, bookings on Airbnb have rebounded above 2019 levels. Europe, another key market for travelers, started ramping up its vaccination campaign a little later. Still, the speed has picked up, and as of this writing, a higher percentage of the population is fully vaccinated in Europe than in the U.S. If that coincides with a surge in travel, it's great news for Airbnb.

What this could mean for investors  

Analysts on Wall Street expect Airbnb to report revenue of $1.23 billion and a loss per share of $0.48. Both figures would be better than last year when travel nearly came to a halt because of COVID. Interestingly, Airbnb went on an urgent cost-cutting spree at the pandemic's onset. If the company can beat EPS estimates in the second quarter, it can prove the measures worked, allowing it to operate more efficiently coming out of the pandemic. 

It can also be the catalyst needed to send shares higher. Its stock price is up only 1.9% year to date despite continued improvement in the fight against COVID and a wave of reopening economies. Investors are still nervous about how the delta variant and perhaps new ones will continue to restrain Airbnb. An excellent second-quarter result could assuage many of those concerns.