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炒掉高管能解决这家公司的问题吗?

Anne Sraders 2019年12月22日

一些华尔街人士并不相信,管理层换人能够解决这家在线旅游巨头的种种问题。

亿客行公司(Expedia)于12月3日将首席执行官马克·奥克斯托姆和首席财务官阿兰·皮克里尔赶下了台,理由是公司战略上的分歧,这让华尔街一片哗然。但一些华尔街人士并不相信,管理层换人能够解决这家在线旅游巨头的种种问题。

亿客行正在越来越快地转型为一家综合性的上下游衔接的旅游平台,今年年初时公司的(现在要称,前)首席执行官奥克斯托姆开始推动品牌和技术的融合——董事会主席巴里·迪勒在12月3日的声明中称之为“雄心勃勃的重组计划”。但第三季度的财报令人沮丧(未达华尔街预期),而第四季度的营收预期也令人失望,亿客行的董事会终于决定驱逐首席执行官和首席财务官,目前公司暂时由迪勒领导。

投资者们似乎被此消息鼓舞,公司股价在12月3日一度被推高了约6%。

不过有些分析师认为,奥克斯托姆的下台另有原因。晨星公司(Morningstar)的丹·瓦希尔莱克认为奥克斯托姆在2018年至2019年年初的时段“执行效率相当高”,公司的税息折旧及摊销前利润(EBITDA)超过预期,“看起来奥克斯托姆的离任,以及第四季度的惨淡预期,是由于他的战略没有侧重于公司业务的重心。”在与瓦希尔莱克有一样想法的人看来,奥克斯托姆和皮克里尔的下台是“令人失望的”,因为他们认为这位前首席执行官的战略,从长期来看是“谨慎的”。

来自谷歌的压力

亿客行的一大问题,是依赖于谷歌的流量。“亿客行在谷歌的免费自然搜索中,已经有较高的曝光度,但这一搜索方式正在被谷歌刻意淡化,所以亿客行也面临因为谷歌的压力而产生的风险。”晨星公司的瓦希尔莱克说。尽管谷歌推动的谷歌旅游(Google Travel)(目的是将谷歌地图变成一个包括旅游服务的“超级app”)并不构成对亿客行的竞争威胁,但谷歌对旅行社的市场营销渠道压力,使得谷歌成为一个“威胁”,并增加了亿客行的市场营销支出。

事实上,这也是为何一些分析师,比如艾弗考尔国际战略投资集团(Evercore ISI)的李·霍洛维茨,认为“改革管理层,未能解决亿客行面临的挑战——亿客行需要减少谷歌搜索引擎优化作为其流量来源的权重,否则当谷歌持续将更多流量从免费改为付费时,亿客行将被进一步盘剥。”霍洛维茨在一份报告中如此解读。

对于晨星公司的瓦希尔莱克来说,问题在于“亿客行自己的订购网站能否补上非直接流量渠道的损失,能否通过在自己平台上提供优质用户体验,来提高自己网站的不用花钱的直接流量呢?”

即便亿客行重新侧重于现有的核心业务,短期的业绩和增长总会有起伏(据公司称,应该这么定位),但有些分析师认为,这么做反而会伤害亿客行追赶其他旅游公司的长远而有益的战略目标。竞争对手如猫途鹰(TripAdvisor)和缤客(Booking.com)就在执行类似的融合品牌与科技的战略,晨星公司认为通过一个“上下游衔接的旅行体验”将会增加公司的长远价值。而像爱彼迎(Airbnb)这样的竞争对手,也在构建全融合的平台。

目前由迪勒领衔的新领导层,未来会不会绕回到奥克斯托姆的融合战略去呢,这有待观察。“我认为他们将某一领域进行融合的投资,视为一种资源分散,从短期业绩中取消这种投资,回归业务重心,显然业绩会提高。”瓦希尔莱克对《财富》杂志说,“但我希望这种业绩的提高,不是以投资于平台的长远价值为代价的。”(财富中文网)

译者:宣峰

Expedia surprised the Street on December 3 as CEO Mark Okerstrom and CFO Alan Pickerill were ousted from the travel agency company amid a disagreement over strategy, the company said. But some on the Street aren’t convinced a switch-up at the top will fix the online travel giant’s problems.

As companies are increasingly shifting toward integrated and connected trip-platforms, the company’s now ex-CEO Okerstrom began a push for Expedia to integrate its brands and technology earlier in the year—a strategy that board chairman Barry Diller called an “ambitious reorganization plan” in a statement on December 3. And after a dismal 3rd quarter earnings report (missing Wall Street’s estimates) and disappointing 4th quarter estimates, Expedia’s board ousted the CEO and CFO, and said Diller would lead the company for the time being.

Investors seemed encouraged by the news, pushing the stock to close 6% higher on December 3.

Yet some analysts think Okerstrom was onto something. Following what Morningstar’s Dan Wasiolek describes as a period from 2018 into early 2019 of Okerstrom “executing pretty effectively,” with performance exceeding EBITDA expectations, “it seemed like the reason for the departures and the reason for the poor [4th quarter] outlook is being pinned on a loss of focus for the overall core of the business due to Okerstrom’s strategy.” To those like Wasiolek, the ousting of Okerstrom and Pickerill was “disappoint[ing]” given he believed the former CEO’s strategy was “prudent” over the long-term.

Pressure from Google

One big issue has been Expedia’s reliance on traffic from Google. “[Expedia] already had a higher exposure to free, organic search that Google is de-emphasizing, so they were more at risk of feeling the pressure from Google,” Morningstar’s Wasiolek says. Yet while Google’s push into Google Travel (and the company’s move to make Google Maps a “super app” with travel services included) does present a competitive concern for Expedia, it’s the pressure on the travel agency’s marketing channel that makes Google a “threat,” and has weighed on Expedia’s marketing spend, Wasiolek says.

In fact, that’s why some analysts like Evercore ISI’s Lee Horowitz thinks “there are challenges at [Expedia] unsolved by relieving management—Expedia needs to wean off of Google SEO as a source of traffic or face getting further squeezed as Google continues to convert more traffic from Free to Paid,” Horowitz wrote in a note.

And for Morningstar’s Wasiolek, the question is, “can Expedia booking offset that indirect channel by giving a great user experience on their own platforms that drives their direct traffic, where they’re not paying marketing, higher?”

Even if a push to refocus strategy on Expedia’s existing core businesses were to bump short-term outlook and growth (which, according to the company, it should), some analysts think it could be to the detriment of a more long-term, beneficial strategy that would ultimately help Expedia keep pace with other travel companies. Competitors TripAdvisor and Booking.com have been implementing a similar strategy of integrating their brands and technology, which Morningstar believes adds long-term value through a “fully connected trip.” Even competitors like Airbnb are building out fully-integrated platforms to compete.

Whether or not the new leadership, currently headed up by Diller, will circle back to Okerstrom’s integration strategy in the future is yet to be seen. “I think that they [just] saw that one area of integration investment as a distraction, and taking away from the near-term results, and if you remove that and return to your focus, you’ll see some stronger results,” Wasiolek tells Fortune. “I just don’t want it to come at the [expense of the] long-term view of investing into the platform.”

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