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Moving from a flight-centric business model to that of a diversified online travel seller is proving to be a tough transition for Lastminute.com Group.
Pre-tax profit for the first half of its financial year (January to June) fell by 68 percent to $2.1 million (€1.8 million) on the back of an 2.2 percent decline in revenue.
What is interesting is the shifting shape of the Lastminute.com business. The company started out as a flight-centric online travel agency but through a series of acquisitions moved into metasearch and content.
Revenue from flight is still the biggest money maker for the company but in the first six months of 2017 it fell from $96.9 million (€81.9 million) to $86.3 million (€73 million) and as a proportion of overall business went from 61.5 percent to 56 percent.
Non-flight revenue on the other hand increased by 11.8 percent to $67.8 million (€57.3 million) through a growth in dynamic packaging and tour operating.
For Lastminute.com the problem is that agency fees for selling flights just aren’t at the same level they were at before. To make up there’s a need to add on ancillary products to improve margins.
“It’s true that bookings are becoming more commoditized and prices more uniform for stand-alone products. What matters is to differentiate and provide a balanced combination of bundled products, services and content,” said Chief Executive Fabio Cannavale.
Lastminute.com has realized that dynamic packages – where customers combine flights, and hotels together – is a much better bet.
“Our investment in dynamic packaging technology is well-established, based on the strong belief that sooner or later this would become the most attractive proposition for our business.
“As a result, we’re positioned ahead of most of our competitors and achieving great returns. Dynamic packages are growing double digits across all countries and today they represent the most successful category within the OTA [online travel agency] business. In the UK it’s our leading product sold ahead of our historical flights business.”
One of the ironies of the travel retail business is that sometimes one of your products can cannibalize another and as Lastminute’s flight revenue has fallen its earnings from metasearch have increased.
There’s a belief among some that in the not-to-distant future metasearch sites will actually start to facilitate more bookings than they currently are rather than simply redirecting them. This will cause further changes to the Lastminute.com business model.
The company’s in-house metasearch engine Jetcost has been growing pretty fast over the last couple of years. Revenue during the period increased by 21.7 percent to $33 million (€27.9 million).
“On the metasearch side, we are pushing to sustain the topline growth in order to gain size and market share against our competitors. Thanks to the excellent job of our Jetcost team, we are managing to do all of that as well as preserving high profitability,” said chief operating officer Marco Corradino.
A Different Company
Lastminute.com is a totally different business to the former dotcom darling of the same name. Bravofly Rumbo Group bought what was left of the company started by Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman for a knockdown price from Sabre in 2015.
The newly combined company was renamed Lastminute.com Group.
On the same day as its results, Lastminute.com also announced its intention to investigate the possibility of buying back some of its stock. This is not believed to to be a precursor to delisting itself from the SIX Swiss stock exchange; instead many companies buy back stock to reward investors by boosting their stock prices.