When asked a few years ago whether Booking.com was a disruptor, CEO Glenn Fogel said "no." Online travel companies should prove their innovation, not make excessive boasts.
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.
Online Travel This Week
If your company’s shareholder letter announcing earnings needs to repeatedly publicize how innovative your business is or how the guest experience you offer is one of “uncompromising quality,” are you actually a bit insecure about it all?
As author Ernest Hemingway advised about the best writing: Show, don’t tell.
In earnings reports, just let the numbers and their explanations do the talking. It’s best to lose all of that excessive fluff.
Airbnb is one of the chief practitioners of public relations-strewn earnings reports in the online travel/short-term rental sector, and Sonder tends to dip in. Plenty of companies in other sectors self-promote to a fault, as well, and marketing-heavy earnings missives and announcements appear to be a trend.
In its first quarter shareholder letter, Airbnb cites its 1. “adaptability and relentless innovation,” 2. “our culture of relentless innovation,” 3. “our innovations are inspiring guests,” and 4. “our innovations, including our new Host on-boarding flow and our Ask a Superhost program.”
This occurs as hosts are emailing me screenshots of what they say are “thousands” of hosts complaining in various forums, including Airbnb’s community platform here, that their listings have gone “stale,” or suddenly their bookings dried up or disappeared following Airbnb’s latest categories update. Airbnb has 4 million hosts around the world so it’s tough to quantify just how pervasive the sentiment is, but it is substantial.
You might chalk this up to routine glitches that happen with product introductions, but hosts have long complained about problems with Airbnb’s back-end tech. Airbnb indeed has stated in the past that improving the host experience is a priority, and the company has introduced numerous features over the last year.
Airbnb’s shareholder letter announcing its first quarter financials — $1.5 billion in revenue and a $19 million net loss — also features a photo of host Jason Burrell, who is “proud to showcase the creativity of other artists in his Airbnb.” That’s lovely — but it doesn’t need to be in an earnings report about profits, losses, revenue, and performance forecasts.
Sonder’s first quarter earnings announcement wasn’t as pitchy as Airbnb’s but it mentions how the company has “meticulously studied each recession as far back as the data goes,” and its fourth quarter financial performance statement repeatedly references how the company is “revolutionizing” hospitality.
“Like prior generations,” Sonder stated in its fourth quarter shareholder letter, referring to Millennials and the Gen Z generation, “they requireuncompromising quality. Those desires are uniquely met by our global offering of beautifully designed properties that provide mobile-first service and standard-driven quality.”
Sonder may one day put pressure on a segment of the hospitality industry, but for now its stock is trading at $1.84 per share and its market cap is a non-unicorn-like $400 million despite bullish growth forecasts for the rest of the year.
Vacasa’s first quarter earnings announcement included self-serving tributes to the company from a vacation rental owner, and another one from a guest, but otherwise the shareholder letter was fairly fact-driven and numbers-oriented.
Meanwhile, the first quarter earnings announcements from companies such as Alphabet (Google), Booking Holdings, Expedia Group, and Tripadvisor basically stuck to their financial performance with a limited amount of puffery regardless whether it was in the form of a shareholder letter or traditional quarterly press release.
Reporters and investors want to get to the bottom line when studying companies’ earnings announcements. Enough with the bullshit.
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