Expedia Group wants to become less U.S.-centric, but change is coming slowly. Trivago's troubles are partly to blame.
When Mark Okerstrom became CEO of Expedia Group in September 2017, he said he wanted the company to become more global. In September 2018, Okerstrom repeated the ambition, noting that one of his priorities is for the conglomerate to become more locally relevant worldwide.
But the change is coming slowly, as new revenue numbers revealed on Thursday with Expedia’s fourth quarter and full year earnings release. During 2018, Expedia earned internationally only 44.73 percent of its $11.2 billion revenue, revealing a slight decline in the company’s international share of revenue versus the prior year.
In 2016, the Expedia Group booked 42.59 percent of its revenue outside of its U.S. home base.
Since then it has become slightly, though not dramatically, more global.
In 2017, it earned 44.91 percent of its revenue internationally.
In 2018, the new revenue numbers showed it fell slightly back. Still, the conglomerate has strived to become globally balanced. In 2018, it grew its international gross bookings by 15 percent, to $99.7 billion.
One problem was that the overseas numbers grew from a small base. Domestic gross bookings increased only 11 percent, but they built on a larger base — helping to enlarge the domestic share.
By dollar volumes of travel processed, Expedia Group looked U.S.-centric, too. Last year the company processed only 38 percent of its $99 billion in gross bookings outside of the U.S., a gain of about one percentage point (meaning, 88 basis points) over its international share in 2017.
Expedia’s slow change of growth undercuts its marketing message since last March that describes itself as “The World’s Travel Platform.”
The company faced a headwind on the lodging side. In each quarter of 2018, the pace of growth in international room nights booked declined sequentially. Averaged out across 2018, Expedia had annual international room night growth of 13 percent, compared with a higher 16 percent growth a year before.
So what gives?
Speaking with analysts on an earnings call Thursday night, Okerstrom partly blamed Trivago, a price-comparison service with a large international customer base that it controls. In the past year, Trivago referred fewer customers in absolute numbers to the brands of advertising partners like Expedia in 2018 than in the prior year.
“In many international markets, we’re much more reliant on performance marketing channels like Trivago and other metasearch players than we are in the U.S.,” Okerstrom said. If it weren’t for the struggles at Trivago, he would have expected more international growth.
Okerstrom spoke optimistically about international growth in 2019. He said the company’s brands have been adding many hotel and alternative lodging properties throughout 2018 that will begin to draw customers in 2019.
“We should see a larger contribution to our lodging revenue, especially thanks to the new properties we added in 2018,” Okerstrom said. But he conceded that it remained “hard to tell” whether the new listings of places to stay would drive an acceleration of revenue growth in international markets.
Okerstrom said the company owes its strength in the U.S., Canada, and a few other markets to delivering “incredible customer experiences” with all the lodging choices and cruise, car, flights, and activities they may want.
Up until now, the company hasn’t concentrated on offering the same breadth of inventory and service in other markets, he said. But that will change.
Expedia otherwise reported respectable financial results. During the fourth quarter, it boosted its revenue 10 percent, year-over-year, to $2.56 billion. But that was a percentage point less in the pace of annualized revenue growth that the company notched during the same period in 2017.
The conglomerate saw its net income, a measure of profit, shrink by 66 percent, year-over-year, to $17 million. The profit trouble partly reflects a struggle at its Trivago brand.
Photo credit: A photo of Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom visiting a Tokyo office in May 2018. Expedia Group