Investors won't soon forget the massive bear market that hit stocks earlier this year. But the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC -0.28%) has already put the downturn behind it, with Tuesday's gain of about 0.75% marking another record close for the soaring benchmark. The Nasdaq 100 index also managed to climb further into uncharted territory.

There've been plenty of reasons why Nasdaq stocks have done disproportionately well. Many of the technology companies that have the highest weightings in the Nasdaq indexes have gotten through pandemic-related business closures relatively unscathed, and a sizable number have seen business pick up as their clients try to adapt to fast-changing conditions. What might mark a true recovery, though, is when hard-hit businesses start to see things turn around. That's what investors found today, as online travel portals Booking Holdings (BKNG -10.15%), Expedia Group (EXPE -2.01%), and TripAdvisor (TRIP 1.19%) put up some solid gains.

A vote of confidence for online travel portals

The immediate catalyst for today's move higher came from TripAdvisor, which got favorable comments from analysts at RBC Capital. The travel review specialist had released an update on its second-quarter financials on Monday that initially spooked investors, especially because the company had far fewer monthly unique users of its platform than last year. For April, user counts were only a third of 2019 levels. In May, that improved slightly, but counts were less than half what they were in May 2019. That had a huge impact on revenue as well, which plunged 90% during April and May compared to year-earlier levels.

Person opening blinds in a hotel room with a gift on the bed.

Image source: Getty Images.

Yet RBC stayed firm on its neutral "sector perform" rating and raised its price target on TripAdvisor stock to $19 per share. As the analysts see it, even though year-over-year numbers at TripAdvisor are ugly, they're improving month by month. More people are looking to start traveling again, and as they do, TripAdvisor is hopeful that they'll come back to its website to get the information they need.

That hope was enough to send shares of TripAdvisor higher by 11%. It also lifted its peers higher, with Booking Holdings gaining 3% and Expedia rising by 4%.

Signs of travel interest

One area that's experiencing rising travel demand is the short-term vacation rental industry. Privately held RedAwning reported that its bookings of vacation rentals climbed more than 42% in mid-June compared to year-ago levels. That's reflecting pent-up demand from those who've been stuck at home, and destination areas like beaches, lakes, and mountain locations have done the best.

Historically, portals like Booking and Expedia have relied more on traditional hotels, and it's unclear whether they'll pick up as quickly. Travelers can distance themselves far more effectively in single-family vacation properties than in hotels, and rental property owners have had a huge incentive to tout the health and safety benefits of isolated locations. Nevertheless, travel portals have branched out into the vacation property space to some extent.

For TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Booking to justify their gains, the travel industry will have to experience renewed confidence in its ability to recover fully from the pandemic-related lockdowns and any resulting recessionary economic conditions. Progress toward a vaccine could have dramatic positive impacts on the industry, but in the interim, signs of worsening outbreaks could make recent gains short-lived. There's a lot of uncertainty in travel right now, and investors can expect the online travel portal stocks to remain volatile.