The Priceline Group can acquire a restaurant reservations platform in OpenTable and add tons of vacation rentals to its Booking.com unit, but Expedia Inc. plans on sticking with its guns and focusing on the hotel business. Will that focus win out? Expedia certainly has been making strides, but this is still the beginning of the beginning.
Oh, Expedia Inc. has its hands full at the moment.
This is no time to focus on Airbnb-like sharing economy partnerships or even getting serious beyond testing and learning about vacation rentals through Expedia’s 16-month-old partnership with HomeAway.
That was the word emerging out of Expedia Inc.’s fourth quarter and full-year earnings call February 5.
Asked about Expedia Inc.’s interest in acquiring or partnering with sharing economy companies, including HomeAway, Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said his company is “very focused on our base business.”
Mentioning Expedia Inc.’s struggling business in China, eLong, which notched a $27 million adjusted EBITDA loss in the fourth quarter, and Expedia’s Trivago metasearch business, which grew revenue 68 percent to $410 million during the same period, Khosrowshahi said, “We have more than enough on our plate.”
That plate also includes Travelocity, which Expedia acquired last month and and is readying plans to toss substantial marketing dollars its way, and Wotif in Australia, which Expedia acquired in November. Wotif’s international search capabilities were already transitioned to the Expedia brand technology platform in January, and the rest of its technology and supplier migration will take place in the first of half of 2015, Khosrowshahi said.
A Lot of Intense Work
“We’re pretty squarely focused dead-ahead on the businesses at hand,” Khosrowshahi said, meaning that getting more serious about the sharing economy and vacation rentals is not on the immediate agenda.
That’s good news for Airbnb, which has one fewer big online travel company to worry about as a potential competitor, and Booking.com, which has steadily built up its vacation rental supply to 243,176 holiday rentals in 212 countries.
It isn’t terrific news for HomeAway, which is looking for increased distribution through Expedia and also an exit strategy one of these days.
Not a Core Part of Expedia’s Strategy
Expedia now displays 150,000 of HomeAway’s vacation rental listings on Expedia.com, and customers can view them when they search for longer hotel stays. Khosrowshahi said a segment of Expedia’s customer base is attracted to the vacation rentals listings, which are getting enhanced exposure on Expedia.com as of late.
Khosrowshahi said the HomeAway vacation rental inventory is a complement to Expedia’s own services.
Asked whether Expedia would seek to partner with sharing economy services or acquire them, Khosrowshahi said: “I think we will look to partner up for that product at this point. Obviously things may change, we may have a different viewpoint.”
“For example, Home Away is an example of, well, it’s not sharing product to some extent, it is a rental product, it’s people sharing in one way and we are testing and learning actively and have 150,000 Home Away properties now offered on Expedia and understanding what the best treatment of that kind of inventory is,” Khosrowshahi said. “So we will be actively testing and learning. We think it will continue to be a complement of our services and we will look to build those partnerships over time.”
The emphasis seemed to be on “over time.”
The Expedia CEO said the company’s main plan is to build its hotel business — global room nights jumped 28 percent year over year in the fourth quarter — and would presumably rather partner with sharing economy companies than acquire them.
Earlier Khosrowshahi said Expedia will consider acquisitions when attractive opportunities pop up, but this comment didn’t come in the context of sharing economy companies being in the consideration set.
Concerning the sharing economy and vacation rentals, Khosrowshahi said: “At this point it is not a core part of our strategy.”
HomeAway officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Khosrowshahi’s remarks.
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Photo Credit: An Airbnb rental in December 2012. Effie Yang / Flickr.com