SAN FRANCISCO — Airbnb said on Wednesday that it had confidentially filed to go public, taking a key step toward one of the largest public market debuts in a generation of “sharing economy” start-ups.

A public offering by the company, which lets people rent out their spare rooms or homes to travelers, would cap a volatile year in which its business was devastated by the spread of the coronavirus. Airbnb had been privately valued at $31 billion before this year, and the company must now convince investors that it can thrive and turn a profit in a new era of limited travel.

Airbnb declined to comment beyond its brief announcement.

Airbnb’s offering would signal the end of an era for the first wave of highly valued start-up “unicorns,” many of which were founded in the recession of 2008 and then rode a wave of growth fueled by smartphones, gig work and copious amounts of venture capital. In recent years, many of Airbnb’s well-known “sharing economy” peers have gone public (Uber and Lyft), sold themselves (Postmates), or unraveled spectacularly (WeWork).

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