Skift Take

Several travel-oriented, special purpose acquisition companies are out there that have not announced merger partners. A SPAC glut and the lackluster performance of several online travel or short-term rental companies that recently went public could have some of the hunters coming up empty.

Series: Dennis' Online Travel Briefing

Dennis' Online Travel Briefing

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, Executive Editor and online travel rockstar Dennis Schaal will bring readers exclusive reporting and insight into the business of online travel and digital booking, and how this sector has an impact across the travel industry.

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Online Travel This Week

Online travel has a ton of loose ends, questions to be answered, and fortunes to be won or blown, and these issues didn’t get resolved, of course, just because the Gregorian calendar spent its annual allotment of days on December 31.

Here are some of the open questions for online travel in 2022:

Who Will Be Tripadvisor’s Next CEO?

The search for a CEO at Tripadvisor to replace outgoing boss Steve Kaufer is still under way, and chief financial officer Ernst Teunissen, who’s been at that post for six years, would have to be considered a leading candidate on anyone’s list of prospects. The CFO position is a well-worn route to the top inside online travel companies and beyond. As capable as Teunissen might be — he certainly knows the breadth of the business — his appointment would be a disappointment for diversity advocates.

If not now, at one of the most progressive major travel companies, then when?

A new CEO will have to figure out next steps for the Tripadvisor Plus subscription program, which like the CEO position, is undergoing a major transition.

What Will Happen to SPACs With No Dance Partners?

There were at least a seven online travel, travel tech, or short-term rental-oriented special purpose acquisition company mergers in 2021 that resulted in the acquired companies seeing their stocks bought and sold on public stock exchanges.

But there are several waiting in the wings, including Sonder (and American Express Global Business Travel in the corporate travel sector), and there are a few SPACs that went public but have yet to announce a merger partner. Blank check companies have no operations of their own, but exist to merge with companies that do and take them public.

Among the SPACs flying solo to date that are travel or tech-oriented are Altimeter Growth Corp. 2, Go Acquisition Corp., Altitude Acquisition Corp., and Accor Acquisition Co.

Given the SPAC glut, and the lackluster stock performance of some, including Vacasa, HomeToGo and Grab, will the 18 month to two-year deadline clock run out on the acquisition hunters? Is there a scarcity of quality companies to identify and hunt?

Also looming — this one for an initial public offering debut in India, is Oyo — the hard-charging Softbank-backed hotel booking business and operator. Will the stock market take its proposed $10 billion to $12 billion valuation down a few pegs?

Will Booking Sites and Platforms Get More Closely Regulated?

Politico reported that Google and Amazon are carrying out campaigns to lobby against antitrust legislation in the U.S., “which has the potential to pass both chambers with bipartisan support.”

Whether these bills make to President Biden’s desk before the mid-term elections in November is an open question, as is the potential impact on Google — or Facebook’s — travel advertising businesses, in particular.

Meanwhile, Booking.com in Europe is hoping to stave off a regulatory designation as a “gatekeeper” of travelers’ hotel choices and thereby subject to antitrust enforcement, but that process, if it comes to be, would be a protracted one.

Will Airbnb Turn On Hotels and Flights?

Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky has been busy soliciting product ideas on Twitter, but will 2022 be the year that Airbnb gets back to focusing on adding hotels to the platform, and launching some sort of flights business?

Both were on the to-do list at the beginning of the pandemic, but got scuttled as Airbnb reverted to basics and went into survival mode. But will hotels and flights be too tempting to forego for the $110 billion company?

How Will Variants and a Travel Recovery Take Shape?

A travel recovery is, of course, the biggest piece of unfinished business in 2022. How a recovery unfolds, including where and when, will have a lot to say about the pecking order in online travel in terms of which companies emerge stronger or fade away.

There are no guarantees how Covid in 2022 will play out.

In Brief

Airbnb Takes a Limited Step In Anti-Racism Push

Under the terms of a lawsuit brought by African-Americans in Oregon and settled confidentially in 2019, Airbnb starting this month won’t show the first names of Oregon residents when they try to book short-term rentals on the platform anywhere in the world. Given the relatively sparse population of that state, the agreement will have little impact for now unless Airbnb later opts to broadly expand the program. Airbnb will show hosts initials of prospective guests instead of first names before reservations are confirmed. Skift

HomeToGo Buys French Short-Term Rental Sites

HomeToGo, the newly public short-term rental metasearch business, acquired French sites amivac.comvacances.com, and vacances.seloger.com in a bid to obtain exclusive inventory and grow. Will that work in a sector where owners and property managers tend to distribute their wares across several platforms? Skift

Skift Cast Does Podcast on Booking Site Winners and Losers

Skift Research’s Seth Borko and myself discussed his recent report on the online travel company winners and losers over the last 12 months. To a great extent, Airbnb stole the show and Hostelworld brought up the rear among public company online travel agencies, but there were lots of other insights in the research that we discussed. Skift

Brian Chesky on Crypto and the Metaverse

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky thinks any travel company that handles money — which means all of them — should investigate cryptocurrency and its potential impact on commerce. Chesky believes the so-called metaverse would be a gateway to a more immersive internet, and not a replacement for real-life experiences. Skift

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Tags: airbnb, antitrust, booking.com, coronavirus, Dennis' Online Travel Briefing, google, hometogo, omicron, oyo, regulations, sonder, spacs, tripadvisor

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