Skift Take

The way that travel is bought and sold is changing quickly, and older companies have to keep up to secure their future.

Sabre has a long way to go to reach the power it had before the pandemic. That was clear from its 2023 annual report, showing its latest financials and other details about the business, including layoffs completed last year and plans for tech investment. 

Financials: Still Far Below 2019 

Sabre ended 2023 with $2.9 billion in revenue, still roughly $1 billion less than in 2019. 

Sabre’s primary business is providing data about flights to travel sellers, who then use that information to sell flights to consumers. When a travel agent uses that system to book a flight, Sabre charges the relevant airline a fee. 

There were 302.7 million air bookings made with the Sabre system in 2023, a drop of nearly 40% from 2019. Though that number has been improving since the pandemic, Sabre said in its annual report that air distribution volume has leveled off. 

These drops come from a number of reasons, including macroeconomics, slower travel recovery in some parts of the world, global conflicts, and less business travel. 

Expedia Group said previously that it was shifting a big portion of its business away from Sabre, which affects those numbers. Other agencies have been shifting between Sabre and its competitors for a number of reasons, including an attempt to increase bargaining power. 

Airlines have been pushing for more direct sales, circumventing third-party sellers and intermediaries like Sabre. 

Among other factors, there’s also been a hit in revenue from consolidation in the airline industry and the growth of low-cost carriers, which drives some airlines to push for lower fees during contract renegotiations. 

“These changes have had, and we believe they will continue to have, a material negative impact on our financial results and liquidity, and this negative impact may continue,” Sabre said in its annual report. 

Sabre said it projects revenue will exceed $3 billion this year. 

Layoffs: An Expensive Restructure  

Sabre spent $72 million in 2023 on a plan to restructure the business, according to its annual report.

That plan included laying off 15% of the workforce, an announcement that Kurt Ekert made last May shortly after he was appointed CEO.

Sabre had 6,232 employees worldwide at the end of 2023. That’s a drop of nearly 1,300 employees from the prior year. About $66 million of the total restructuring cost went toward employee severance payments. 

Sabre continues to project that the restructuring will save the company $200 million annually. 

The company doesn’t expect significant additional costs from this, but it did highlight some concerns about the plan in the annual report:

“Our cost reduction plan may be disruptive to our operations, and our workforce reductions could yield unanticipated consequences, such as attrition beyond planned workforce reductions, increased difficulties in our day-to-day operations and reduced employee morale. If employees who were not affected by the reduction in force seek alternate employment, this could result in the need for contract support at unplanned additional expense or harm our productivity. Our workforce reductions could also harm our ability to attract and retain qualified personnel. In addition, we may not realize the anticipated benefits, savings and improvements from our cost reduction efforts due to unforeseen difficulties, delays or unexpected costs.”

The Need for More Tech Investment 

Sabre is continuing to transfer all its systems to Google Cloud. It’s a multi-year project that the company says will lead to significant cost savings in 2025, though it said savings have already begun. 

Sabre said it recognizes that competitors are continually upgrading technology to accommodate a fast-changing environment, and it needs to do the same in order to maintain relevance. 

“As travel suppliers adopt innovative solutions that function across channels, our operating results could suffer if we do not foresee the need for new products or services to meet competition either for [the global distribution system] or for other distribution IT solutions,” the company said in the report.

Like its competitors, Sabre is selling new ways of passing information between travel suppliers and sellers. And it’s working to expand its software business for hotels and airlines. 

Its hotel software business made $65 million in revenue in 2023, up 16% from 2019. 

Correction: This article has been updated to remove a figure for spending to transfer Sabre’s systems to Google Cloud. The figure initially cited was for Sabre’s capital expenditures.


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Tags: earnings, sabre

Photo credit: Sabre released its annual report. Alejandro Escamilla / Wikimedia Commons

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