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Booking signals vaccine-led travel rebound in US, UK as Asia lags

REUTERS: Booking Holdings Inc. welcomed a rebound in travel demand in the US and Britain as more people planned holidays after getting vaccinated, but Asia remained on the back foot as its health crisis worsened.

The online travel agency’s shares were marginally higher in extended trade on Wednesday, as optimism around its narrower-than-expected quarterly loss was softened by a lacklustre outlook for international travel. Booking warned that it would take years for a full recovery in international travel, as governments may be cautious in opening borders for tourists. “While the pace of vaccine distribution remains frustratingly slow in most places around the world, Israel, the UK and the US are benefiting from successful vaccine distribution programs,” said Chief Executive Officer Glenn Fogel on a post-earnings call. “In each of these countries, we have seen encouraging booking trends, which supports our view that vaccine distribution is key to unlocking pent-up travel demand.” Booking also pointed to strong domestic room night growth in Russia and Australia. Airline tickets booked rose 49% in the first quarter versus 2019, driven by robust growth at the company’s Priceline, and Agoda brands. While demand in Europe improved sequentially, the travel agency saw trends soften towards the end of March, driven by new travel restrictions. In Asia, room night declines worsened in April from the prior month, hit by slow vaccination progress and government-imposed restrictions to tackle rising COVID-19 cases. Asia was the least recovered region in April. First-quarter gross travel bookings fell 4% to $ 11.9 billion from the prior year. Excluding items, the company lost $ 5.26 per share, compared with analysts’ estimates of a $ 5.87 loss per share, according to Refinitiv data. Total revenue fell 50%, while net loss was $ 55 million, or $ 1.34 per share, in the quarter ended 31 March.

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