When the "R" word -- recession -- gets tossed around, certain industries become particularly risky investment proposals. One of those is the travel industry, as it's sensitive to both consumer vacation spending and business travel activity. And while a recession hasn't made itself manifest, a slowdown for the economy could still be a contentious event.

That has shown up in Booking Holdings' (NASDAQ:BKNG) numbers this year. Growth has tapped the brakes, but the leading online travel agent and merchant platform is still doing just fine. In fact, in spite of signs of slowdown, the company still sees plenty of travel-related activity going on around the globe. No recession here ... yet.

Gross bookings show the global consumer is doing OK

Gross bookings -- the total value of travel services and accommodations booked on one of the company's sites, including Booking.com, Agoda, Priceline, KAYAK, and OpenTable -- increased 4% to $25.3 billion in the third quarter. When excluding the effects of negative foreign currency exchange rates, gross bookings grew 7%.

A hammock set up on a white sand beach overlooking a tropical bay.

Image source: Getty Images.

While not the double-digit increase in years past, it's in line with what management has been telling investors to expect for some time. After all, this is by far the world's largest travel booking company. Plus, the company has had numerous headwinds to overcome this year, including the U.S. government shutdown that kicked off 2019, general political turmoil around the globe, a strong U.S. dollar compared to other currencies (which reduces revenue when the currency is converted to greenbacks), and generally higher competition from upstarts as a developing world economy becomes increasingly mobile.

Nevertheless, management said the average consumer around the globe is healthy and still making trips. Gross bookings in Q3 equated to a 4% increase in revenue, and earnings per share adjusted for one-time items surged 20% higher. Paired with the first half of 2019, Booking is putting together another solid run.


Nine Months Ended Sept. 30, 2019

Nine Months Ended Sept. 30, 2018



$11.7 billion

$11.3 billion


Earnings per share




Adjusted earnings per share




Data source: Booking Holdings.

Building the "connected trip"

Of course, not all was perfect. While the average consumer appears to be unbothered by global economic uncertainty, there were areas of weakness. Specifically, Europe continued to be a sluggish performer, as was China (slowing economic growth) and Hong Kong (due to the ongoing political demonstrations against China).

Still, Booking's business is a small percentage of the total global travel industry. But simply opening up a travel website doesn't cut it anymore. Booking is pushing the "connected trip" concept hard -- a one-stop shop for all of a traveler's needs. Interwebsite cooperation is paying off as Booking and its myriad of services -- covering travel, accommodation, food, and experience arrangements -- integrate with each other to unify a vacationer's trip.

One example of a new way Booking is moving the needle in this regard is with its Grab partnership, the Southeast Asia ridesharing service. Grab is using Agoda.com and Booking.com to link hotel and accommodation listings on its app, helping those catching a ride find a place to stay as well. A similar partnership is going on with ridesharing service Didi Chuxing in China. Though small right now, apparently the integrations are paying off. Management said it wants to replicate these deals in other parts of the world, adding yet another type of transportation service to its repertoire.

Booking Holdings is thus undeterred by chatter of a possible recession on the horizon. Despite muted results in Q3, there is no stopping this online travel business over the long haul.

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