Analyst lowers Expedia profitability estimates again as questions swirl about future of travel
It’s unclear how the COVID-19 outbreak will change the way we travel. Will consumers be more wary of getting on a plane or staying in a hotel? Will remote work reduce corporate travel needs? Will the travel industry simply return back to normal?
The uncertainty puts the future of travel companies up in the air. Seattle-based Expedia Group saw its stock price fall more than 100% this month amid the outbreak and travel restrictions around the globe.
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On Monday RBC Capital Markets again lowered estimates for Expedia’s key financial results after re-examining the impact on profitability this year due to lower travel demand.
RBC now estimates that Expedia will incur a $57 million loss for a key measure of the company’s profits (earnings before interest, taxes depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA). That’s compared to a $176 million gain in the same quarter a year earlier.
RBC also dropped its 12-month price target for Expedia’s stock to $79, down from $100. The firm previously lowered estimates on March 10.
“We continue to believe EXPE is one of the most at-risk names in terms of exposure to COVID-19 and view the extent and duration of this risk as an unknowable,” RBC analysts wrote in a research note.
Earlier this month Expedia withdrew its 2020 full-year financial guidance. The company expects negative impact from COVID-19 to be in excess of $30 to $40 million, which was its initial estimate made on a Feb. 13 earnings call.
Expedia Group includes brands and sites such as Vrbo, Travelocity, Orbitz, HomeAway and many others, in addition to the flagship Expedia.com.
Other travel booking services such as Airbnb are also hurting. The San Francisco-based company, which had plans to go public this year, said this week it will refund customers and pay $250 million to help hosts cover costs due to COVID-19 cancellations.
U.S. senators are now calling on airlines to issue refunds, too.
The airline industry got $25 billion to keep workers on payroll – but they’re not the only ones hurting for money right now. @SenMarkey, @SenBlumenthal & I want airlines to provide customers cash refunds, not just travel vouchers, for canceled flights. https://t.co/xpNbIYSjuw
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 31, 2020
The World Travel and Tourism Council projects that up to 75 million travel and tourism jobs globally are at risk due to the global pandemic. The U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics estimates a loss of 5.9 million travel-related jobs by the end of April.
Some industry experts are bullish about consumer travel returning to normal, though a World Travel and Tourism Council representative said it could be 10 months before the tourism sector rebounds.
Speaking on a Skift webinar on Tuesday, Eric Bailey, Microsoft’s global director of travel meetings and payments, said he expects a fundamental shift in how companies decide to travel, in part due to the rapid adoption of video conferencing apps and other software amid social distancing orders.
“It doesn’t mean that people stop traveling, necessarily, but it does mean that they they change the way that they travel,” Bailey said. “They don’t necessarily need to be face to face for a lot of things.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s going be about the dollars — it’s about the time.”
Egencia President Rob Greyber, whose corporate travel company is owned by Expedia Group, said he’s optimistic about business travel coming back to pre-coronavirus levels.
“I think what’s driven business travel is going to still be true as we emerge from this, but I don’t think it’s going to be a dramatic recovery overnight,” he said. “But I do think travel recovers within a pretty close range of where it’s been. And I think it will continue to grow from there.”