The vacation rental industry often touts the esprit de corps among industry lifers. Greeted with Booking.com ads for hosts at an Expedia partner conference in Sin City this week, Expedia officials weren't feeling that vibe.
Expedia Group officials and undoubtably many of the roughly 3,000 arriving attendees at the company’s partner conference Tuesday and Wednesday were confronted with huge digital signage at McCarren Airport, as well as billboards on the Strip and taxi tops transporting visitors to hotels, touting the wonders of rival Booking.com.
“We’ve delivered over 1 billion vacation rental guest arrivals. That’s a lot of super happy hosts. Think Bigger. Think Booking.com,” reads the marketing campaign, one of the few the Booking Holdings brand has run targeting hosts of what the company still calls “alternative accommodations.”
Although Booking.com claims the marketing blitz, which included print ads in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, is aimed at wooing Airbnb superhosts — who allegedly may not be as happy as Booking’s “super happy hosts,” Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern was hardly enthusiastic at the attempt to sabotage his Explore 22 partner conference.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Kern told Skift in an interview Wednesday, referring to the Booking.com advertising blitz.
Kern said Expedia hasn’t had “a particularly tight” strategy in places like Western Europe, where Booking.com is much stronger.
“We want to be aggressive in going after markets where we have historically been weaker than them,” he said.
He said the two rivals will “each come after each other.”
“We are going to be very tactical and aggressive to figure out ways to win real share in those markets,” Kern said. “They are being cheeky coming after us at our partner conference. Whatever, it’s a billboard, who cares?”
He added: “They are looking for growth where they can, and we are going to do the same.”
The back and forth between the two competitors — Booking with its ad blitz and Expedia Group’s CEO vowing a slap back of some sort — came as both companies reported earnings this week.
Expedia tried to paint a momentum story Monday, reporting that half of its vacation rental customers in the first quarter had never booked this accommodation type before. Expedia narrowed its net loss to $122 million in the first quarter. Its revenue, although down 14 percent compared with the first three months of 2019, rose 81 percent to $2.25 billion when measured against the first quarter of 2021.
Booking Holdings said Wednesday its net loss was $700 million in the first quarter of 2022, a big batch of red ink compared with a loss of $55 million a year earlier. Revenue leaped 136 percent in the first three months of this year to nearly $2.7 billion.
Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel told analysts that both western and eastern Europe were coming back a bit in their travel recoveries, and so are parts of Asia Pacific, although the latter wasn’t as strong as the U.S. and Europe.
Fogel reported incremental progress on the company’s long-term connected trip strategy, which is designed to make the overall travel experience smoother by trying to eliminate its rough edges in delays, payment complexities, and customer service, for example.
He said the strategy right now is to build up the company’s various verticals, and Fogel expressed enthusiasm about Booking.com’s growing flights business. For many years, Booking.com focused on hotels and didn’t offer airplane rides.
“Flights right now, I really like the fact we have the new customers coming in,” Fogel said. “And they’re coming in, they’re buying a meaningful number of buyer combinations, and we haven’t optimized this yet. That’s something important.”
The message is that the connected trip is a multiyear strategy so investors shouldn’t expect any quick wins.
Some 31 percent of room nights that customers purchased in the first quarter were for short-term rentals, officials said, around a 2 percentage point jump from the year-ago period.
“We continue to work on improving our alternative accommodation product globally, with an additional focus on the U.S. market,” Fogel said. “We’ve been working closely with property partners to identify opportunities to improve our platform to better fit their needs.”
That work in the U.S. market includes an advertising blitz in Las Vegas, where rival Expedia is attempting to work closer with its own set of partners.
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Tags: advertising, airline earnings, alternative accommodations, booking holdings, booking.com, conferences, connected trip, earnings, expedia, flights, future of lodging, hosts, hotel earnings, marketing, short-term rentals
Photo credit: Although not shown here in this Las Vegas street scene, many taxi cabs this week carried Booking.com advertisements geared toward recruiting new short-term rental hosts. Abi Skipp / Flickr Commons