Airbnb (ABNB -1.68%) has had an up and down year so far in 2022. The stock fell as much as 20% through March before bouncing back to be up almost 3% year to date as of this writing. The pandemic hurt travel demand, and Airbnb was not spared.

Fortunately, several effective treatments and preventative measures have been developed to combat COVID-19. Progress against the potentially deadly virus has folks feeling better about leaving their homes and taking those long-delayed trips.

However, worldwide spending on travel has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, which is a catalyst that could send Airbnb stock soaring. 

A family in a pool.

Image source: Getty Images.

Airbnb is bouncing back stronger than before

Airbnb does not own any properties listed on its platform. Instead, the company operates a website and app where hosts can list rooms or properties that can be booked by travelers. The business model allows a broader selection of accommodations in contrast to traditional hotels or resorts, which typically offer one-size-fits-all rooms. Airbnb caters to those who prefer more variety or whose needs differ because they're traveling with a family, on a business trip, or on an extended vacation.

The company was growing revenue solidly before the pandemic reversed that trend. In 2020, the collapse in travel demand brought its revenue down 29.7% for the year. Meanwhile, the global hotel and resort industry's sales fell from $1.47 trillion in 2019 to $650 billion in 2020. Fortunately for shareholders, Airbnb's revenue did not fall as much as the industry's.

The company's outperformance continued through 2021, when revenue of $6 billion was 25% higher than in 2019. Again, that was a better recovery than in the hotel industry, which saw revenue bounce up to $950 billion in 2021 vs. the $1.47 trillion in 2019. These figures could indicate a growing appreciation of Airbnb's services.

One of the long-lasting effects of the pandemic is a larger group of individuals working remotely, so the hotel and resort industry could recover to post revenue higher than that 2019 figure. If you are not tied to a specific location for work, it frees up more options on when and where you can travel.

Moreover, when the company saw customer demand collapse at the onset of the pandemic, management went to work to reduce expenses. As revenue recovered, Airbnb maintained discipline on spending, and profits improved.

It has reported net earnings on the bottom line for two consecutive quarters for the first time in several years. And net income in its fiscal 2021 third quarter, ended Sept. 30, was $834 million compared to $267 million in the same quarter of 2019. When the travel industry fully recovers, it could boost Airbnb's revenue and profits further still.

The stock is about as cheap as it's ever been 

Airbnb stock is trading at a price-to-free-cash-flow ratio of 50, near the lowest it has ever been in its young history as a public company. That's unusual considering that Airbnb's prospects are excellent in the near and long term. So as global demand for travel increases, it could be the catalyst that sends Airbnb stock soaring in 2022.