High prices will not slow down summer travel: Expedia CEO

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Travelers are ready to pack their suitcases and get on airplanes in the coming months even with disruptions due to labor shortages and higher inflation, Expedia Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Peter Kern said.

“Are there going to be places where things start to reach their peak or come off their peak, sure,” Kern said of travel demand Wednesday at the Bloomberg Technology Summit in San Francisco.

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“Broadly, we’re not seeing any discernible moment or time line where it’s all going to fall off.”

Travel executives have talked for months about a robust season after two years of COVID-19 restrictions. Travelers don’t seem to be dissuaded by high inflation, soaring energy costs, labor shortages or the spread of variants in some areas.

During earnings last month, Expedia, Booking Holdings Inc. and Airbnb Inc. all provided upbeat forecasts for the next few months.

“From what we can see of the US markets and western markets, there’s tons of pent-up demand, Kern said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg Television’s Emily Chang. “We’ve seen people wanting to rebound and overspend into travel.”

Strategists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimate oil will remain above $100 a barrel through the next year, which could raise travel prices higher and potentially curb demand.

Those more expensive tickets, however, have helped airlines handle the higher energy prices so far, Kern said.

“I think they’ve built in some cushion there,” he said.

Seattle-based Expedia and competitor Airbnb are finding ways to reinvent their brands, with Expedia introducing travel boards that allow multiple people to help plan a trip in addition to providing more of its own technology to large and small travel partners.

The company also is unifying the rewards program across all its brands, which include Hotels.com and Orbitz. Airbnb launched a categories search function that lets users look for destinations like tiny homes, beach accommodations or island get-aways.

Aside from traditional hotels, short-term rentals have been a boon for Expedia’s Vrbo platform during the pandemic as employees took advantage of flexible remote work policies. Vrbo specializes in home vacation rentals outside of urban areas.

“We won’t see the kind of outsized growth we saw during COVID, but I think there’s plenty of runway to continue to grow,” Kern said at the technology summit.

“In our markets we’re very strong and we’ve seen great demand and I think that will continue.”

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