Transaction values up 80% for Priceline

Priceline Inc has claimed market “share gains” for its brands, including booking.com, during the last three months of 2009.


Overall the Nasdaq-listed business booked 14.6 million room nights during the fourth quarter of 2009, 60% more than in the same period in 2008.


The 14.6 million room nights were not broken down by region. The total for 2009 across all markets was 61 million room nights, around one-third higher than 2008’s total of 41 million.


Booking.com represents the vast majority of its international business, although its APAC business Agoda.com is starting to perform better.


Gross bookings from international came in at $1.4 billion in quarter four, 81% ahead of the same quarter last year in dollar terms or 70% in local currency.


Priceline attributed the growth to its “geographic expansion, increased hotel supply and consumer shift to online bookings”. By contrast, domestic gross bookings for Priceline grew by only 21% in the quarter at $831m.


Talking through the numbers with analysts, CEO Jeffrey Boyd suggested that a revival in the business travel market might reduce the number of deals available to online travel agents.


“There’s no question that promotional pricing helped to spur leisure travel last year, not just for us but for others in the space, and that absence of promotional pricing could have an impact on fundamental demand.”


He also offered his slant on the challenge to its European business from hotels trying to market themselves directly, rather than through an intermediary such as booking.com.


“For small independent hotels that make up the majority of the international markets in which we do business, they just don’t have the resources and the expertise to market on a lot of different channels, so I think there’s a very significant limit to how aggressive they can be in trying to market directly in online channels.”


Looking ahead, the prospects for its international business look strong, with its first quarter 2010 guidance suggesting “a year-over-year increase in international gross travel bookings of approximately 65% – 73%, or 56% – 64%.”


Domestic gross bookings are slated for a 10-15% improvement.


The financials also reveal that Priceline Inc spent more than $270 million on online advertising during 2009. Chief financial officer Dan Finnegan told analysts that its “total advertising spend is pretty much inline with prior years as a percentage of gross profit”.


Priceline is still seeing a lot of traffic coming directly to its sites.


“We continued to see good levels of direct traffic to all of our websites. It’s very important that we build our brands and promote that direct traffic,” Boyd said.


Booking.com continues to perform well in paid search, achieving 88% share of voice on Google according to Greenlight’s Q4 Hotel Sector report.

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