It must be heartening to Sabre to win Louvre, Europe's second-largest hotel group, as a customer of its central reservation system. But Sabre didn't notch significant hotel enterprise wins in recent pre-Covid years. So it will need to sign other hotel groups in 2021 to sustain momentum.
Sabre is a travel technology company that rose to prominence by helping airlines distribute their fares to travel agencies. But that flagship business has been hard hit by the pandemic’s disruption of travel. So the company, based in Southlake, Texas, is looking for a quicker rebound from its other business units, particularly in providing information technology services to hotels and airlines.
Sabre announced Tuesday it had signed Louvre, Europe’s second-largest enterprise hotel group and a subsidiary of Jin Jiang International, and All-Inclusive by Marriott International as new customers for its SynXis central reservation system.
Before the deal, transactions processed since the start of the year have “trended in a positive direction” as some hoteliers see some incremental rebound in domestic travel. Last summer in the U.S., Sabre saw hotel reservations pace ahead of flight bookings in relative recovery.
In the fourth quarter, Sabre’s distribution revenue plunged 79 percent to $131 million, but its IT Solutions unit saw revenue decrease a less dramatic 40 percent, to $145 million.
“We expect the GDS [global distribution system] bookings to lag overall airline capacity growth,” predicted Ashish Sabadra, a research analyst at Deutsche Bank, in a recent report.
The pandemic’s disruption of international and long-haul business travel has hit the ordinarily profitable Sabre hard because those were among its most lucrative businesses. In 2020, Sabre’s net loss nearly equaled its revenue. It lost $1.28 billion and only generated $1.3 billion in revenue, a decline of two-thirds year-over-year.
In the fourth quarter alone, Sabre saw its total company revenue plunge 67 percent, year-over-year, to $314 million. Sabre suffered a net loss in the quarter of $311 million.
During an earnings call Tuesday, Sabre executives said they believed they had the team and budget they need to take advantage of the recovery. The company ended the year with a cash balance of $1.5 billion. Having made cuts and raised capital, executives said they were now looking ahead.
“I am laser-focused on what we are going to be doing post-Covid,” said president and CEO Sean Menke.
Sabre’s Tech Investment
Sabre’s executives said they had three key tech transformation milestones for 2021. They plan to move at least 15 percent of the company’s mid-range workloads to the Google cloud platform. They intend to move its airfare shopping tool for agencies to Google’s infrastructure by June. Google will offer a more scalable and cost-efficient platform than its current data centers that use older tech and some of its applications that run on an Amazon Web Services hybrid cloud, executives said.
Sabre’s management also aims this year to move the company’s hotel central reservation system to Google’s cloud. That will allow it to make changes in one place that are instantly deployed for customers worldwide.
Sabre said it was working on embedding a new platform powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning and co-developed with Google to address up to about 40 different business “use cases.” First, Sabre will integrate its offer management and account segmentation capabilities with Google’s merchandising solution.
“Given the lack of significant Sabre customer wins in recent years (pre-Covid), we believe the Google/Sabre combination needs to produce meaningful wins that impact financials to be a positive catalyst,” said Oppenheimer analysts in a report prior to Tuesday’s earnings release.
Before the crisis, Sabre had planned to develop a full-service property management system with Accor, but the coronavirus put that plan on hold.
In 2020, Sabre signed 1,600 hotel properties overall to SynXis tools that aim to help hoteliers to broaden their distribution and reach and drive incremental revenue with targeted upsell offers and other promotions.
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Photo credit: A United Airlines Boeing 737 at O'Hare Airport. Sabre, the travel technology company, reported a loss of $311 million in the fourth quarter and $1.28 billion for the full year. United