Skift Take

The Libra cryptocurrency program is falling apart following regulatory pushback. Booking Holdings likely didn't want the hassle of being associated with such a controversial initiative, which may not get off the ground in the near term.

Booking Holdings exited Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency initiative shortly before the Libra Association was slated to convene in Geneva Monday, Skift has learned.

The online travel company — the only travel company among the more than two dozen founding members — confirmed the move.

Booking Holdings’ decision followed the departures of fellow founding members MasterCard, Visa, Paypal, eBay, and Stripe, according to published reports.

The Connecticut-based online travel company, which generated $9.2 billion in revenue in 2018 and has the world’s largest business selling accommodations, wanted to avoid the controversy that’s developing around Libra, a source said.

That controversy includes pushback from regulators in the U.S. and France. Regulators have argued that Libra, a project initiated by Facebook that would be run through the Libra Association, could contribute to undermining the global economic system.

Booking Holdings hasn’t ruled out getting involved anew with the Libra Association in the future, the source added.

Founding members of the Libra Association, which included more than two dozen companies, were to contribute some $10 million each to show their commitment to developing the Libra cryptocurrency, which was slated to launch in 2020.

Booking Holdings and likely other founding members hadn’t paid that sum, pending further development of the association. The Libra Association was to discuss a charter and to name board members at the Geneva meeting on Monday.

Global travel companies such as Booking Holdings, Airbnb, and Expedia Group have a keen interest in developing diverse payment systems to enable people around the world to conduct e-commerce. Booking Holdings had viewed Libra as an element in that drive to enhance its payment systems.

Glenn Fogel Cast Doubts About the Launch

At Skift Global Forum in New York City in late September, Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel said that Facebook had invited the company to be a founding member of Libra, which he wouldn’t label a potential cryptocurrency but instead pointedly referred to as “an alternative payment method.” (See Fogel talk about Libra in this video starting at around the seven-minute mark.)

“We looked at what they were talking about, what they were thinking, and we said, yeah, we’d like to have a seat at the table as this develops,” Fogel said. “We don’t know if it’s going to come off the ground or not.”

Fogel said there was a possibility that the Libra Association “will produce something that’s much more efficient for everyone involved.”

The inefficiencies under the current financial system include credit card fees and fraud costs, he said.

“If there is a way that is cheaper, quicker, just so much better, then we’d want to be part of it,” Fogel said.

Fogel said he’d only want Booking Holdings to participate in such an endeavor if it were safe and secure with adequate privacy protections.

But as far as Booking Holdings’ participation in the Libra Association, that’s off the table for now, and the entire project may be on its last legs.

In addition to what appears now to be a mass exodus among Libra Association founding members, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week delivered another blow to cryptocurrency advocates by getting in the way of Telegram’s potential $1.7 billion token offering for its blockchain. TechCrunch reported that the U.S. regulatory body filed an emergency order to halt Telegram’s initial coin offering.


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Tags: booking holdings, facebook, libra

Photo credit: Mastercard, Visa, and now Booking Holdings are among the companies that have exited Facebook's Libra cryptocurrency initiative. Associated Press

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