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With Independence Day almost upon us, Priceline (PCLN) predictably has come out with its 4th annual survey of 50 most popular holiday destinations. The survey is based on more than 30,000 actual booking requests made by its customers online, and therefore an accurate predictor of trends this season.

The beeline of holiday customers and humming of activity at Priceline is reflective of a general boom in online travel, that somewhat masks its reported Q1 loss last month of $0.44 a share compared to a $0.02 loss a share in the same quarter last year.

Analysts feel the sheen of Priceline stock will not pale much since the company’s Q1 total revenue rose by an impressive 25% at $301.4 million ($241.91 million same quarter last year) and its Q1 pro forma revenue at $285.5 million registered an 18% increase over last year’s.

In November last year, Goldman Sachs (GS) had held a price of $49 a share for Priceline as 12-month target. The scrip, however, is doing much better, hovering around $63-64 in the last few trading sessions.

It has been a long story for Priceline, a dot-com wonder that pioneered the concept of NYOP (Name Your Own Price) in 2000. It shot into fame because of this unique model where travelers would name their prices for air travel, car rental and hotel room in its website that were matched by the database of suppliers that Priceline maintained. [Our recent review of Priceline against the Web 3.0 framework is here.]

The model lost popularity because of apparent lack of transparency, and Priceline in April 2005 started, for the first time, a ‘published list format’ in which travelers would be able to make bookings, knowing which brand and product they have been choosing from.

This was the same format that bigger rivals like Expedia (EXPE) and Travelocity were already following, and so for Priceline this began just another avenue to sell its travel related products.

However, what proved to be the main issue-clincher in the company’s favor has been the strong showing by its European division, Priceline Europe. Said to be one of Europe’s fastest growing companies, Priceline Europe now sells more than 5,000,000 room nights per year, promoting over 15,000 hotels in 40 European destinations.

Little wonder then that its Q4-2006 profit at $13.2 million ($0.33 a share) more than doubled compared to previous year’s figure of $3.8 million ($0.09 a share), which has been due to stellar European performance.

Backed by significant ownership of its stock by Cheung Kong Holdings of Hong Kong that recently sold its stake in India’s cellular phone provider Hutch to UK’s Vodafone for a record $19 billion, the mood at Priceline is clearly upbeat.

However, whether the stock scales its all-time high of $104 at the peak of dot-com era is something that remains to be seen. If it does, this time, it will be based not on random speculation, but rather solid fundamentals, since the Online Travel industry now is here to stay.


PCLN 1-yr chart:

Source: Priceline: Riding High On the Internet Travel Boom