Are TripAdvisor and Priceline Signaling Peak Travel or a Vacation Recession?

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TripAdvisor Inc. (NASDAQ: TRIP) and Priceline Group Inc. (NASDAQ: PCLN) may have one thing in common: they both suffered into or after earnings. It might be easy to signal that both companies have already had their great easy growth days. The flip side is to ask whether these represent a travel recession or if it means that peak travel numbers have been witnessed for this business cycle.

TripAdvisor reported that revenue fell 3% to $352 million, for a decrease of roughly 1% on a constant currency basis. Adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $0.32 did not enthrall investors either — consensus estimates were $0.45 EPS on revenues of $370 million or so.

What stands out is that the after-hours reaction was far worse than the formal opening price for TripAdvisor shares. One of the problems seen was that there may be too much mobile penetration. Mobile reached 54% of total unique users and app downloads reached 315 million in the first quarter. As a reminder, mobile is harder for most companies to convert to revenue versus desktop users.

TripAdvisor shares were down initially between 4% and 5% in Wednesday’s after-hours trading session, but they were up 1% at $64.00 shortly after Thursday’s opening bell.

Priceline shares, which seem harder to track for most investors (with that $1,250 share price), also fell on earnings to create a shock when factoring in guidance and CEO issues. Priceline’s profit of $374.4 million generated adjusted EPS of $10.54 and revenue rose 17% to $2.15 billion. Thomson/First Call had estimates of $9.65 EPS and $2.12 billion in revenue.

Priceline’s booking commissions, which have been about 70% of total revenue, rose 25% to $1.5 billion. The company is still suffering from its CEO firing in recent days, on the heels of his relationship with a subordinate that was a violation against Priceline’s code of conduct.

Priceline also guided its second quarter in June to $11.60 to $12.50 EPS, far short of the $14.97 consensus estimate. Revenue growth of 7% to 14% could be only about 60% of what analysts were calling for at the midpoint.

TripAdvisor Chief Financial Officer Ernst Teunissen said:

We were pleased that our first quarter Revenue and Adjusted EBITDA performance was in line with our internal expectations. While instant booking remains dilutive to our Hotel segment revenue growth and profit margins in the near-term, we are pleased by early results and believe we are well-positioned for long-term growth.

Jeffery Boyd, chairman and interim CEO of Priceline, said:

The Priceline Group delivered strong top line growth and attractive margins in the first quarter. Growth in room night reservations of 31% reflects continued solid execution in the market for global travel. … The Group is looking forward to continued investments in product, service and branding that will drive long-term growth for our leading brands.

TripAdvisor shares closed down 4.1% at $63.13 on Wednesday, and the stock was down another 5% at $59.75 in the after-hours trading session. The shares were up just over 1% at $63.70 shortly after the open on Thursday.

Priceline’s stock closed down 7.5% at $1,253.04 on Wednesday, with more than four times normal share volume of 2.8 million shares. Its shares had briefly traded up on Thursday morning, but after about 20 minutes the stock was down almost 0.9% at $1,242.10 or so.

It’s still too early to say that the online travel sector has peaked, and it’s still not set in stone that travel is about to see a major contraction. That being said, the easy growth days for this sector and the endless consolidation efforts might already have been seen.