Consumer travel in the age of COVID-19 is moving into a new phase of manageable risk and minor inconvenience as the Omicron variant starts to decline.
That was the big-picture takeaway Thursday afternoon from Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern after the Seattle-based online travel giant posted fourth-quarter profits that exceeded Wall Street’s expectations.
“There was far less consumer fear over traveling, and really it was an issue of inconvenience,” Kern said on the company’s conference call. “The world has essentially gotten accustomed to the pandemic.”
It’s looking like “a solid return to travel,” Kern said, observing that bookings have rebounded anywhere Omicron has started to decline. He also expressed confidence in the future of international and big-city travel.
As travel rebounds, Kern said, the company should benefit from its work during the pandemic to restructure its business and unify its behind-the-scenes technologies. Part of that effort has focused on developing microservices with APIs that can be shared among its different brands and used in features for customers.
Expedia Group, headquartered on the Seattle waterfront, includes travel brands such as vrbo, Orbitz, Hotwire, Trivago, Hotels.com, and Egencia in addition to the flagship Expedia.com.
Kern said Expedia Group is operating in a “smarter, more efficient, better way,” with about 10,000 fewer people than it did at the end of 2019. He didn’t give the current number, but the company reported a total of 25,400 employees as of December 2019, which would put the new total in the range of 15,000 employees.
- Fourth-quarter revenue was $2.3 billion, up 148% year-over-year and down 17% from Q4 2019, prior to the pandemic.
- Gross bookings were $17.5 billion, up 131% year over year and down 25% from Q4 2019.
- Net income was $276 million, or adjusted earnings of $1.06 cents per share. Wall Street expected 80 cents per share.
Expedia Group shares (NASDAQ: EXPE) are up nearly 6% in after-hours trading. The stock is up nearly 32% in the past year, closing Thursday at $197.52.