Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Online Travel

Booking.com Is Launching a U.S. Credit Card – Who’ll Be Its Partner?

4 days ago

Booking.com hasn’t announced a deal to launch a co-branded credit card in the U.S., but a LinkedIn post Tuesday by a relatively new employee and a job opening for “manager, co-branded credit card growth & strategy,” provided grist for speculation.

In the LinkedIn post, Jonathan Rossman, whose position is listed as “co-brand credit card at Booking.com,” said he’s hiring team members and asked people to reach out if they are “interested in helping to build and grow a unique and differentiated cobrand product” at Booking.com.

Rossman, who has been at Booking.com for nine months, according to his LinkedIn profile, did previous stints at JPMorgan Chase, American Express, and British Airways.

He linked to a Booking.com job posting for manager, co-branded credit card growth and strategy, which the company described as “a new role being created to launch and manage Booking.com’s upcoming co-branded credit card in the US, a top priority market for the company.”

Booking.com tried its hand at travel inspiration. Source: Booking.com

Booking.com has been pushing for the past few years to get stronger in the U.S. It will need a partner for a co-branded credit card and it’s unclear who it will be.

One possibility? Booking.com kicked off an important partnership with Citi last month when the Amsterdam-based online travel agency and sister brand Rocket Travel began powering a newly launched Citi travel site for cardholders, CNBC reported. Booking provides flights, accommodations, rental cars, and tours and activities for the portal.

Short-Term Rentals

Vacasa Announces Reverse Stock Split

2 weeks ago

Property manager Vacasa announced its intent to conduct a one-for-20 reverse stock split that’s geared to get its share price higher than $1 per share and therefore to be continued to trade on Nasdaq.

A vacation rental that Vacasa manages. Source: Vacasa

Its shares were trading for $0.48 midday on Friday.

The reverse stock split, authorized by the Vacasa board of directors September 1, would go into effect before midnight October 2, the company said. Vacasa’s split-adjusted shares would start trading on the stock market the next day.

Several companies, including Sonder, which went public via SPACs and have seen their share prices dip below $1 have similarly announced reverse stock splits.

Online Travel

Trip.com Group Offers Cash Bonuses to Employees Who Have Kids

3 months ago

Trip.com Group, the largest online travel company in the world, looks to address China’s population decline and aging demographic by offering cash incentives to employees to have kids.

Recognizing the need for a supportive working environment and the challenges posed by the population decline, the company has introduced a childcare subsidy program for its employees.

Under this program, employees who have been with the company for three years or more will receive an annual cash bonus of $1380 (RMB 10,000) for each newborn child from the child’s first birthday until the age of five.

This initiative, with a budget of $138 million (RMB 1 billion), aims to support employees in their family planning journey while promoting a healthy work-life balance.

The shift in perspective reflected by Trip.com Group signifies a broader awareness in China regarding the demographic imbalances and future challenges.

During the Skift Megatrends event in New York City in January, Skift had highlighted the significant implications for the travel industry as India surpasses an aging China as the world’s most populous country this year.

James Liang, the executive chairman of the Board of Trip.com Group and a prominent demographer in China, emphasized the importance of this childcare benefit in empowering employees to pursue both their professional ambitions and their aspirations of starting or expanding their families.

After years of advocating its one-child policy, China now grapples with the significant challenge of population decline and an aging population.

Demographers, including Liang, express concerns about the imbalance between an increasingly aged population and a diminishing number of young people, which could potentially disadvantage China in international competition.

Government projections estimate that by 2035, 30% of China’s population, or 400 million people, will be age 60 and over.

In 2019, 254 million people in China were aged 60 years or older.

In January, China’s National Bureau of Statistics indicated that the country’s population stood at 1.4 billion at the end of 2022, marking a decrease of 850,000 from the previous year.

The decline in China’s population, the first in nearly 61 years, has become a reality. The burden of supporting an expanding elderly population falls on a diminishing number of young people, raising pressing concerns about elderly care, Liang noted in a blog post earlier this year.

Moreover, a decline in the young population can hinder economic innovation and lead to a decline in entrepreneurial activities and creativity, similar to Japan’s experience, he said.

Furthermore, a shrinking young population can impede economic innovation, entrepreneurial activities, and creativity, as seen in Japan’s experience.

Various regions in China have introduced initiatives and incentives to address the population decline. These include cash rewards, extended leave, loans, tax breaks, housing subsidies, and increased paid marriage leave days.

Da Bei Nong Group, an agricultural technology company in Beijing, had announced cash rewards and extended leave for expecting parents.

While these measures aim to encourage childbirth and alleviate financial burdens, Liang emphasizes the need for long-term strategies and more comprehensive measures.

Cash subsidies alone may not be sufficient to encourage childbirth, he wrote, adding that to address the population decline effectively, reducing the costs associated with raising children, such as tax exemptions, subsidized mortgages, and affordable childcare and education, is crucial.

Additionally, overhauling the education system and reducing academic competition pressure can foster a greater willingness among young couples to have children, noted Liang.

Online Travel

Booking CEO Glenn Fogel Cites Generative AI’s Promise and Hurdles

6 months ago

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel cited the “explosion of interest” in generative AI (artificial intelligence), but counseled that it would be prudent to be patient about delivering on its promises.

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel
Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking Holdings, pictured here speaking at Skift Global Forum in September 2022 in New York, is keen on more tech investment. Source: Skift

“But it’s important to remember that disruption has never been built in a day, and lasting innovation is iterative,” Fogel wrote on LinkedIn. “At Booking Holdings we have been using various types of AI across our brands for over a decade to remove friction from the travel process and our teams continue to explore what the best uses of this new transformative technology might be.”

Fogel cited the challenges, including reliable data sources, in turning artificial intelligence and related technologies into a better travel experience.

“I believe that generative AI and other technologies will play a key role in this new travel world, and many of us in the travel industry are investing right now to build the foundations,” he said. “However, there are going to be significant challenges. The problems of how to obtain real-time data from countless sources, process it all to result in optimal solutions, and then act rapidly to benefit consumers will not be solved overnight. Nevertheless, this is just one area, among many, where we are going, and travel will be better when we arrive.”

Fogel’s LinkedIn post was a tad more diplomatic than his comments last month when he discussed generative AI during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call.

“Obviously, a lot of hype about AI right now, about generative AI,” Fogel said February 23.

Citing a “hype cycle,” and Booking’s long-time work in artificial intelligence, he said: “I’m not sure — I don’t think we’re into that froth of dissolution yet.”

Short-Term Rentals

HomeToGo Earns $155 million in 2022 Revenue, Surpasses Initial Guidance

7 months ago

German vacation rental marketplace HomeToGo’s revenue grew to €146 million ($155 million) in 2022, up 54 percent from the comparable period in 2021. This is well ahead of its initial guidance of €120-125 million ($127-$132 million) for 2022. The announcement is part of the company’s preliminary results for 2022. 

During the same period, the Berlin-based company’s subscriptions and services grew to €24 million ($25.4 million) increasing by 169 percent from €9 million ($9.5 million) in 2021. Its onsite revenues, where travelers booked directly on the company’s websites, grew to €67 million ($71 million), up by 111 percent from €32 million ($34 million) from 2021. 

A resort listed on HomeToGo in Williamsburg, Virginia. Source: HomeToGo

Founded in 2014, HomeToGo currently operates localized apps and websites in 25 countries.

In January this year, the company said it was on track to break even in 2023, buoyed by the optimism of a much greater backlog of bookings at the beginning of 2023 than the previous year. The booking backlog of €32.5 million ($34.5 million) amounted to a 72 percent year-over-year increase.

“One key piece of this has been our clear focus on an efficient marketing strategy to drive and scale repeat demand,” HomeToGo CFO ​​Steffen Schneider told Skift in January. 

HomeToGo raised a total of $176 million in private funding over six rounds, and has acquired 10 companies, a prominent one being e-domizil for $45 million in March 2022. 

Hotels

Oyo Claimed to Have Outpaced U.S. Budget Hotel Recovery

7 months ago

Oyo, which advertises itself online as “India’s Best Online Hotel Booking Site for Sanitized Stays,” said it is performing well in the U.S. — after de-emphasizing its U.S. presence during the height of the pandemic.

The Oyo Las Vegas Hotel. Source: Danielle Hyams/Skift

India is Oyo’s largest market.

The company said Friday that during 2022 its revenue per available room, an important industry metric, grew 18 percent in the U.S. compared with prior to the pandemic in 2019, versus an only 6 percent rise for its budget hotel peers in the country. The latter figure comes from STR data, Oyo said.

“Coastal Oregon, Miami, Myrtle Beach, Houston and San Antonio emerged as the destinations with highest RevPar in 2022,” Oyo stated. “Travel recovery was largely led by domestic travel in the U.S.”

Oyo has a potential initial public offering in the works in India.

Oyo, which is a hotel aggregator and operator, said it attracted nearly 20 percent more bookings over President’s Day weekend (February 18-20) in 2023 versus 2021.

Online Travel

Booking.com Returns to the Super Bowl With Ad Featuring Melissa McCarthy

8 months ago

It’s tough for a National Football League team to make a return trip in two consecutive years to the Super Bowl, but online travel company Booking.com will be doing just that with a fourth quarter advertisement during the telecast.

Here’s the advertisement:

Booking.com Chief Marketing Officer Arjan Dijk announced on LinkedIn that the Amersterdam-based online travel agency would run a spot for the second year in a row featuring its Booking.yeah tagline. Melissa McCarthy, who’s won Emmy Awards and been nominated for Academy Awards, headlines the advertisement, and whimsically touts the wonders of stays at hotels and short-term rentals when booked on Booking.com.

Booking.com revived its Booking.yeah campaign in 2022. It had been dormant since 2013.

Booking Holdings sister brand Priceline.com will be launching a new campaign during the 2023 Super Bowl pre-game show February 12.

One might say, Priceline.yeah.

Travel Technology

Travel Tech at JetBlue, Avis, Hilton and Avianca Still Seems Archaic

8 months ago

There’s been well-deserved excitement in travel tech circles in recent years about everything from the New Distribution Capability to chatbots and the arrival of generative AI, but the reality is that much of what passes for travel technology is still backwards these days.

An elevator at the Phoenix Airport car rental center on January 10, 2020. Source: Flickr.com/Tony Webster

Here are a few recent examples:

Avis: Rental Counter Can Be Unavoidable

Avis informed me a few days ago that I couldn’t modify an upcoming reservation at Newark Airport to add electronic toll charges because I made the reservation using points. In a chat, the Avis agent assured me I could add E-ZPass at the counter — although there are often elongated wait times there.

In November at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, as an Avis Preferred member, I was supposed to be able to view the app and go directly to the parking lot to retrieve my rental car, but that didn’t happen. Eventually, an Avis agent at the car rental counter told me I hadn’t been able to go directly to the car in the parking garage because I arrived during an employee shift change, and the cars were not in place and ready. The wait for the cars was at least 45 minutes at the rental counter.

JetBlue Ticket Modifications: You Need to Cancel and Rebook

In early January, I tried to modify a JetBlue flight booking at JetBlue.com, but wasn’t able to. During a text chat, JetBlue told me in what I think was an automated answer that since I booked the flight with points, I’d have to cancel and rebook it to make the change. “TrueBlue point bookings are managed online,” JetBlue stated. “Changes require you to cancel and rebook. Points are returned to the TrueBlue account. Bags/seats are refunded to the original payment.”

If I had booked the original flights with dollars instead of TrueBlue points, I probably would have been able to easily modify the booking online. But don’t airlines want their customers to join their loyalty programs, and redeem those points? Instead, there is a disincentive when points functionality lags.

Avianca Blames the ‘System’ on Multi-City Booking Issue

About a week ago, I wanted to book a multi-city itinerary on Avianca.com, but there was no option to do so. I was looking to book Punta Cana-Cartagena-Medellin-Punta Cana. I complained on Twitter in frustration, and Avianca kindly messaged me within minutes of my tweet that its customer service agents would reach out, which they did. But after a back and forth with one of the agents over a couple of days, he informed me that the Avianca “system” wouldn’t allow him to make the multi-city booking, either. The agent said I should try booking the tickets separately.

I did book the flights separately — but with another airline. 

Can’t Bypass the Front Desk at a Hilton Property

In November, I reserved a room for a few nights at a Hilton Garden Inn in New Jersey. A Hilton email informed me I could use the Hilton Honors app for a contactless arrival. The idea was to skip the front desk, head to my assigned room, and unlock the door with my phone.

When I arrived at the property, a very nice front desk employee informed me that for security purposes I would have to show her an ID so it turns out at this particular property, at least, there would be no bypassing the front desk. She then handed me a couple of card keys for my room door.

Moral of the Story?

Despite all the boasts from airlines, hotels, and car rental companies about seamless this or frictionless that, the reality is often more traditional and clunky. The travel industry still finds itself plagued by outdated, legacy technology or more modern applications that sometimes aren’t well thought out.

Online Travel

On the Beach Founder to Step Down as CEO

10 months ago

On the Beach Group CEO Simon Cooper, who founded the UK-based beach holidays online travel agency in 2004, will resign his post within the next 12 months, and Chief Financial Officer Shaun Morton will take over the CEO duties, the company announced.

On the Beach Group founder and CEO Simon Cooper plans to step aside as CEO within the next 12 months. Source: On the Beach Group

The precise timing of the transition, according to the company, depends on recruitment of a new chief financial officer to assume Morton’s current duties. The board hired an external team to assist in that search.

On the Beach Group credits Morton with helping to guide the company through the Covid pandemic, playing a lead role in strategic investments in brand marketing and technology, and striving to win market share in luxury and long-haul trips, and making inroads in the Group’s business-to-business initiatives.

Cooper, who remains a major shareholder in the company, will take a board seat and stay actively involved in the business, On the Beach stated. Cooper increased his shareholding in August.

On the Beach Group didn’t cite a specific reason for Cooper’s relinquishing his CEO duties.

The announcement coincided with the company’s release of its fiscal 2022 preliminary results. The fiscal year ended September 30.

For the year, On the Beach Group, which is a publicly traded company in London, recorded profit before taxes of  £2.1 million ($2.6 million) in fiscal 2022 compared with a loss a year earlier of £18.4 million ($22.5 million).

“Notwithstanding the emergence of Omicron and the disrupted airline schedules this summer, revenue was up 3 percent versus fiscal year 2019,” the company’s announcement stated.

On the Beach stated it is uncertain how the “cost of living crisis” will sway consumer behavior, adding that the company is well-positioned entering fiscal year 2023.

Online Travel

Travelzoo Moves To Fund Metaverse Experiences

10 months ago

Travelzoo, a hotel and package deal publisher, said in a financial filing on Tuesday that it would ask its stockholders to approve making a metaverse experiences scouting business a wholly owned subsidiary of Travelzoo. The business, Metaverse Travel Experiences (MTE), is currently wholly owned by Azzurro Capital.

The proposed consideration for the issuance of Travelzoo stock is mix of $10 million (details are explained in the document posted below) and 100 percent of the equity in MTE.

At a Dec. 28 special meeting, the company will ask shareholders to vote on allowing the hedge fund Azzuro Capital, an investment vehicle owned by Travelzoo founder Ralph Bartel, to pursue a transaction that would effectively leave Azzuro and Bartel with an approximate 50.01 percent stake in Travelzoo (up from 35.99 percent) and his brother, CEO Holger Bartel, with 4.1 percent. The company will issue shares of common stock representing approximately 27.5 percent of outstanding stock.

The planned subsidiary aims to build “relationships with creators and providers of high-quality metaverse travel experiences to broker contracts between such creators/experience providers and businesses planning to market metaverse experiences to consumers.” Skift covered the debut of the unit earlier this year.

The financial filing is posted below.

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