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People ‘will start booking’ summer travel as vaccine rollout continues: Booking Holdings CEO

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Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how the travel industry can recover from COVID-19.

Video Transcript

- Traveler data still down sharply relative to pre-pandemic levels. The latest numbers from the TSA still showing that we are about 50% below those traveler numbers at airports since before the pandemic. But how many people are looking forward to a resumption of travel here once we get those vaccines rolled out? Here to discuss what travel plans look like for the rest of the year, we're joined by the CEO of Booking.com and Booking Holdings Glenn Fogel on the show with us. Glenn, good to see you here. Thanks for joining us.

I mean, obviously, everyone's looking forward to traveling again once this all gets over. But what are you seeing in terms of bookings for when people expect to get back out there?

GLENN FOGEL: Well, thanks for having me. And right now, people are still booking for a very short period of time. Some people are saying maybe next week, next weekend. They're not really surging to say, I want to start planning for the summer yet. We call that a short booking window. But I am very confident that as things start getting better, as these vaccines start getting rolled out, as people feel safer, I do believe people will be thinking more and more about their summer holidays and will start booking.

AKIKO FUJITA: You may still be in a lull in terms of where things stand in comparison to pre-COVID times, but I wonder if you have seen a sentiment shift at all that has come along with the rollout of the vaccine.

GLENN FOGEL: I think people are generally becoming more optimistic about the future I think we all feel that with these new vaccines, that people feel that we're going to get over that mountain at some point and start getting into that beautiful valley where things are safe and we get to live like we used to. But we all know it's going to take time. We know it's not overnight. It's not like flicking a switch. And we know that gradually, things will get better.

And I think that thing that's going to be slow is going to be the international travel, because governments are still going to be a little bit leery about letting those restrictions go, and letting people just flow in and potentially raise up those infection rates. So I think that's going to be the last thing to come back.

- And Glenn, I mean, we were looking at this last year. Air travel took a hit, but-- but more people were driving and taking road trips out there. I know that you guys operate through the hotel side through Priceline, Kayak, and Booking.com. But what are you seeing in maybe that hotel booking resumption there when you think about that becoming a big piece of this?

GLENN FOGEL: Well, you're absolutely right. We saw that in the summer, people were looking very, very local. They wanted to get in the car where they felt safe and go to someplace. And whether it was a hotel or they wanted to rent a home in our homes department, we saw people did want to travel still.

I think over time, people will want to go further and far. And look, people want to travel. They always want to travel, and they want to get on that plane and go someplace different. And we think what we really just need is safety. Once people feel safe, they'll start getting on those planes again.

AKIKO FUJITA: What does this all-- what of all this-- what does all of this mean from your company's standpoint? When you look at Booking.com, of course, you have to close some offices last year. You announced some layoffs as well as a result of the significant slowdown you saw. Do you anticipate more coming, given that things haven't bounced back to the levels you expected?

GLENN FOGEL: Well, we-- we took a very long view of the future. We knew that this thing was not going to turn around right away. And unfortunately, sadly, 2020 was a terrible year for our business. And unfortunately, we had to let go about 25% of our employees, and it was very sad about that. But we think that's done. We think things are going to start getting better, and we are not expecting any further cuts. In fact, we're hoping that things do get better sooner rather than later. But we know it will take time, and that's something that will all be very happy about.

- Yeah, 2020 was a terrible year for a lot of people and also terrible for the customers of some of your services. OpenTable is in your guys' umbrella of brands. When we spoke to them earlier last year, it was kind of shocking to hear the expectation that one in four restaurants would permanently close because of the pandemic. Is that still what you're seeing when you look into that OpenTable data?

GLENN FOGEL: Well, the fact is let's say restaurants generally have a very tough time anyway. Margins are low, and a lot of them go out of business a lot. But absolutely the pandemic, though, really threw a loop into that industry. And it's going to take time for people to come back and feel safe going to restaurants and dining indoors, but that absolutely will happen.

Again, it all comes down to how fast do we get these vaccines rolled down? How fast do people start taking those vaccinations and start feeling safe so they can then travel, and go to the dining, and do everything they used to do? That's why it's so important that our government continues to work so hard at getting this rolled out as fast as possible using all the powers of the federal government in the US and around the world to make sure that these vaccines are put into people's arms as quickly as possible so we can get back to a normal life.

AKIKO FUJITA: Realistically, though, we're talking months to come in order for-- for enough vaccinations to be out there to achieve some kind of herd immunity. In the meantime, I mean, I'm looking outside my window here in New York at-- at the snow and thinking, this is not the time people want to be eating outdoors.

Yes, New York City, for example, is resuming indoor dining as well. But how significant has the drop-off been during the winter when you compare it to where things were in September or October, particularly in the cities where cold weather is a significant factor?

GLENN FOGEL: Yeah, you're absolutely right. And the fact is this has been a terrible hardship on restaurants that are in the northern parts of our country where it's cold and people don't want to eat outside. It is very hard for them. That's why thankfully, the federal government right now looking at a new stimulus package.

Hopefully that will be put through quickly and hopefully that will help some of these very hard pressed restaurant tourists to be able to maintain their businesses going forward. Look, we're all looking forward to spring. Warmer weather will allow people to dine outside, feel safer, et cetera. But it can't happen soon enough for me.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, no question about that. Although I should point out over the weekend, I saw plenty of people who were sitting outside with no heater eating outdoors here in New York City, so you're certainly right about that demand still being out there. People just want to get outside their homes. Glenn Fogel, the CEO of Booking.com, it's good to talk to you tonight.

GLENN FOGEL: Thank you very much.