They say that a rising tide lifts all boats, but the same doesn't hold true when a Wall Street pro initiates coverage of an entire niche. James Hardiman is kicking off coverage for some of the major online travel companies this week, and while he's tagging market darling Booking Holdings (BKNG -0.43%) with a bullish outperform rating, he's actually going with neutral calls on Expedia (EXPE 0.55%), TripAdvisor (TRIP 0.64%), and Trivago (TRVG -4.13%)

Hardiman likes Booking Holdings, the company that used to trade as Priceline until changing its corporate moniker earlier this year. He feels that there's still plenty of upside left for what he considers the best-in-class online travel agent. He's setting a price target of $2,500 on the stock, representing more than 20% of upside off of current levels. He feels that its shrewd investments -- including Kayak, restaurant reservations specialist OpenTable, and several international platforms -- will continue to pay off. 

Booking Holdings' sites across various mobile devices.

Image source: Booking Holdings.

Buckle your seat belts

Wedbush's analyst isn't as convinced that the other names will hold up as nicely as Booking Holdings. He's tagging Expedia -- Booking's nearest rival -- with a neutral rating. His $117 price target suggests less than half of the upside possible with Booking Holdings. Hardiman feels that elevated costs and a lofty current valuation don't warrant the same kind of optimism that he's glossing Booking Holdings with this week. He sees any potential bounce in Expedia's fundamentals not happening until the second half of this year at the earliest. 

Hardiman is also lukewarm on TripAdvisor, the popular aggregator of travel reviews. He's holding back until he sees signs of stabilization with its hotel and non-hotel listings. There may be some positives in its latest quarter -- including its first profitability increase for its flagship hotel segment after six quarters of declines -- but revenue growth continues to be a challenge. He's not encouraged by overall margin trends at TripAdvisor, and his $42 price target also suggests less than half of the near-term upside as Booking Holdings.

Finally we have Trivago, the leading hotel listings aggregator. The stock has taken a beating since Booking Holdings and Expedia tweaked their bidding strategy, crushing top-line growth at the once-promising Germany-based dot-com. Hardiman sees a difficult path to profitability for Trivago. It's in a pickle. If it reduces advertising expenses to cut costs, it will translate into declining qualified referrals. He's staying on the sidelines until he sees a clearer long-term outlook here. His $7.50 price target suggests slightly more appreciation upside than TripAdvisor and Expedia, but still well short of Booking Holdings. 

One would think that if the state of online travel improves for one company, it would benefit all of the players, but we've already seen that this isn't the case. All four of the analyst's price targets may be just above where the stocks are presently perched, but investors may be taking great risks for limited returns with some of the names that he's not recommending.