It should be no surprise that the new Expedia CEO, who Barry Diller claims to have selected without conducting a wider candidate search, would have his own ideas about where to take the $22 billion company. Okerstrom is even talking about a path for Expedia becoming number one in online travel. That's definitely something we haven't heard publicly articulated in awhile.
Now that Expedia Inc. CEO Mark Okerstrom has settled into his new job, after predecessor Dara Khosrowshahi high-tailed it off for Uber nearly two months ago, a lot of Okerstrom’s initial talk about not having a list of things he’d want to do differently than the former CEO has been cast aside.
In presiding over his first earnings call Thursday as Expedia’s number two honcho — after controlling shareholder and chairperson Barry Diller, that is — CEO Okerstrom said in the future Expedia would “disproportionately” seek to create value from the organic growth of its existing businesses, including Expedia, Hotels.com, and HomeAway, for example.
That represents a sea change from Expedia’s strategy as Khosrowshahi, with then-CFO Okerstrom very much involved at every juncture, executed a blockbuster series of acquisitions in 2014 and 2015, including buying Travelocity, Wotif, Auto Escape Group, Orbitz Worldwide, HomeAway, and more.
Okerstrom said Expedia would still be open to acquisitions when attractive opportunities arose, but clearly he’s looking to emphasize expansion generated from the company’s portfolio of existing businesses rather than from newly seized prizes.
That pivot comes after Expedia bought Orbitz Worldwide for $1.6 billion in 2015, but got bogged down in the difficulties of integrating it into Expedia’s family of brands and onto the Expedia technology platform.
During Expedia’s 2014-2015 acquisition spree, Priceline Group officials and others contended that Expedia’s acquisition strategy would turn out to be problematic, and in the short term, at least, that arguably has turned out to be true. The Priceline Group, which is growing much faster than Expedia on an organic basis, had its own acquisition woes, however, having had to take a $941 million impairment charge on its $2.6 billion acquisition of dining reservations site OpenTable in 2014.
Okerstrom’s Divergent Strategy
In his opening remarks for analysts during Expedia’s third quarter earnings call, Okerstrom also said Expedia’s new marching orders would be: Become locally relevant on a global basis rather than 2017’s “go global” mantra under Khosrowshahi. Among the nuanced differences would be emphasizing the build-up of local lodging supply, improving language translation, and ramping up tech and marketing investments in local markets.
How do we get to be number one in online travel?” Okerstrom asked rhetorically. “We know what to do,” he said, adding “it’s more going deep as opposed to going wide,” and investing in more compelling consumer experiences.
Okestrom also said he wants to put the “A back into OTAs,” meaning emphasizing the travel agent and customer service aspect of the online travel agency label.
Expedia’s new CEO said the company plans to make a greater effort to set priorities and accelerating its execution, both of which would help take Expedia to a “different level.”
Along those lines, Okerstrom said Expedia would spend more on marketing, technology and on-boarding new lodging properties for the rest of this year and 2018.
Alan Pickerill, who became Expedia’s new CFO in September when Okerstrom transitioned from that post to CEO, said accelerating the number of properties available on Expedia Inc. sites would produce “outsized returns.”
Expedia now has 500,000 hotels, vacation rentals and apartments available on its platform, the company said, and that is a 57 percent jump over the third quarter of 2016.
A Weak Third Quarter
For all the talk about tweaked strategies, Expedia Inc. had a disappointing quarter as results were dragged down by an $8 million loss and outsized marketing spend at its Trivago hotel-search unit; a $15 million to $20 million profit hit from hurricanes and earthquakes, as well as ramped up marketing spend and increased technology costs at HomeAway, which now boasts 1.5 million online bookable listings.
For the quarter, Expedia’s profits rose 25.2 percent to $349.3 million on revenue of $2.96 billion, a 15 percent jump. The revenue figure was below analysts’ expectations.
Okerstrom said “our overall results were weaker than expected,” and he cited the “record storms.” Room night growth in the quarter, which includes HomeAway, was sluggish at 16 percent compared to 31 percent in the third quarter of 2016.
Trivago Will Take Time to get its mojo back
A year ago, Expedia officials were pointing to their Trivago hotel-search and HomeAway vacation rental brands as keys to future growth, and they still make these arguments.
However, Trivago encountered a speed bump as it reorganized its auctions for online travel agency and hotel advertisers earlier this year, and now envisions depressed results through next year.
That’s a remarkable turn of events for Trivago, which executed an IPO late last year, and had been binging on growth.
Expedia officials said advertisers are testing the new Trivago bidding platform, and are making adjustments to get at efficiencies for their companies.
Expedia CFO Pickerill said Trivago’s performance will be negatively impacted as advertisers adjust to “the new normal.”
But Okerstrom emphasized that Expedia still believes Trivago has an “excellent” business and consumer product, which is run by “excellent operators.”
“I think that it will take a little bit of time,” Okestrom said, adding that “we do believe that it’s going to settle out.”
HomeAway Won’t Make Its Profit Goal in 2018
Pickerill said HomeAway will not meet the $350 million profit goal that officials had previously announced for 2018 in part because of increased costs in transitioning to cloud computing, and because of heightened marketing spend. Officials didn’t articulate a new goal.
HomeAway is now positioned to execute more efficiently and “step it up” because it has made strides in transitioning from a subscription- to a transaction-based business, Okerstrom said. In fact, in the third quarter, 75 percent of HomeAway’s revenue came from homeowners paying per bookings instead of the previous norm of paying flat subscription fees regardless of whether a transaction occurred.
Asked whether HomeAway would soon make a big push into urban areas, which is Aibnb’s strength and a departure from HomeAway’s resort- and ski-area base, Okerstrom said HomeAway would prioritize marketing those 1.5 million online bookable listings that it boasts.
Perhaps HomeAway would begin an urban initiative in late 2018, Okerstrom said.
After all, it’s all about revamped priorities all around under a new regime.
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Photo credit: Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom made is first public appearance as CEO at the Skift Global Forum in New York City September 27, 2017. He's started to set a course for Expedia that is somewhat different than his predecessor's. Skift