Airbnb will definitely be able to take this Expedia/Vrbo punch.
Outgoing Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern said a technology platform migration completed late last year hurt Vrbo’s ability to convert lookers into bookers, but that now the company’s vacation rental unit is ready to get back on offense.
Kern referenced Vrbo’s recent ads attacking Airbnb, saying he’s “really excited about our new brand work that is designed to punch our main competitor squarely in the nose, and we are leaning back into spend.” (See one of the ads below.)
The tech transition placed Vrbo’s front end on an Expedia tech platform along with sister brand Hotels.com. Kern said that led to “conversion degradation” for Vrbo, and Expedia had reduced its marketing spend on Vrbo.
Noting Vrbo “had a hole to dig out of, Kern said “we are clawing back conversion at a breakneck pace.” He said the company is now increasing marketing spend and that he expects Vrbo’s performance to improve every quarter in 2024.
During the fourth quarter, Expedia Group’s lodging business saw its bookings grow 11%, but the hotel portion increased 18%, suggesting Vrbo’s sluggishness.
Expedia Group Will Get a New CEO
Kern’s remarks came during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call Thursday. Before the call, Expedia Group announced that Kern would be leaving his post May 12 when his contact expires, and that Expedia for Business President Ariane Gorin would become Expedia Group CEO the next day.
Kern will stay on as Expedia Group vice chairman and a board member.
Kern made extensive comments on the CEO transition ahead. “When this started, the idea was for me to come in for a period of time and sort of right the ship, put us where we want it to be and then build the team and make sure we have the people to take it forward for the next generation as it,” Kern said.
He said revamping the company, which began in 2020 and covered everything from brand deletions to consolidating various brands’ marketing teams and the launch of a unified loyalty program, was a larger job than he expected.
“And I had my doubts a year ago, but we’ve made so much progress, Kern said.
He added: “But I built it so that they [the next generation of company leaders] can take it forward. And there’s never a right time, but hopefully, this is a good time to transition.”
Expedia’s One Key Loyalty Program Showing Good Signs
Kern said he was pleased overall with the progress of its One Key loyalty program, which debuted in 2023, and that it will be expanded to several unspecified international markets in 2024. He said members are increasingly engaging with the program’s multiple brands such as earning points on Hotels.com and burning them on Expedia.com.
But he added: “It’s not a switch you flip when you talk about travel timing.” Kern was referring to the fact that members might earn points on a Vrbo booking, but they might not travel again for another six months or a year.
For the fourth quarter, Expedia Group saw its net income dip 25% to $132 million on revenue of $2.8 billon, a 10% jump.
For the full year, net income increased 127% to $797 million. Revenue for full-year 2023 rose 10% to $12.8 billion.
The company cited a softness in gross bookings, which rose 6% in the fourth quarter to $21.6 billion, driven by a reduction in the average ticket prices for flights. Flights don’t have a significant effect on profitability, Kern said.
“On a macro level, we expect travel demand to remain relatively healthy, but we expect growth rates across the world to decelerate, especially early in the year as we lap the post Omicron tailwinds we saw last year,” said Chief Financial Officer Julie Whalen in her prepared remarks. “We are still expecting much faster growth internationally outside North America and Western Europe that we expect the gap to continue closing. We may also see some softness in prices across categories this past quarter, both hotel and vacation rental ADRs grew very slightly, but the mix effects led to overall lodging ADRs declining year-over-year.”
Expedia Group missed analysts’ consensus estimates ($22 billion versus $21.7 billion) on gross bookings in the fourth quarter while its revenue of $2.89 billion met expectations.
Expedia’s share price was down 13% in after-hours trading.
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Photo credit: Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern (left) discussed trends in online travel with Skift CEO Rafat Ali at Skift Global Forum on September 21, 2022 in Manhattan. Source: Skift