Lindblad Expeditions (LIND 6.60%) posted fourth-quarter and year-end 2022 earnings late last month, showing substantial revenue improvement from a growing adventure-travel market. And current bookings for 2023 are outpacing the same time in 2019 by 47%.The expedition cruise and travel company expects 2023 to deliver strong growth from pre-pandemic levels, according to CEO Dolf Berle.

Let's look at Lindblad's fourth-quarter and full-year 2022 results and why I'm bullish on this cruise stock.

Revenue growth across all segments

Fourth-quarter revenue landed at $118 million, up 80% from the same period in 2021 and up 56% from the same period in 2019. During the fourth-quarter earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Craig Felenstein cited Lindblad's expanded fleet and improved land-based offerings as major revenue drivers.

Although revenue soared across ocean and land experiences segments, Lindblad took a fourth-quarter adjusted loss of $2.7 million on the basis of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). According to Felenstein, this loss was expected, "given the seasonality of our business and elevated short-term cancellation rates."

While a loss is never ideal, last quarter's $2.7 million loss marked significant improvement over 2021's fourth-quarter loss of $13.7 million. 

For the year, Lindblad delivered $421 million in total revenue, a remarkable 187% increase over 2021 and 23% higher than pre-pandemic 2019. Felenstein said the improvement was mainly fueled by a greater offering of expeditions and trips -- both at higher price points.

Despite driving higher revenue than 2019, Lindblad ultimately took a loss for 2022 as a whole. The 2022 adjusted EBITDA loss of $11.5 million marked a $52.5 million improvement over 2021's loss of $64 million. For reference, Lindblad Expeditions posted $66 million in positive adjusted EBITDA in 2019.

Updating its fleet, the cruise line also launched the freshly refurbished National Geographic Islander II ship during the fourth quarter. Replacing the previous Islander vessel in the Galápagos, Islander II offers new amenities including a science center, fitness studio, and roomy indoor-outdoor dining options.

Operating expenses surged in 2022

Increased spending, higher operating costs, and investments in company initiatives all affected Lindblad's bottom line last year. For one, the purchase and refurbishment of Islander II cost more than $20 million, amounting to over half the company's capital expenditures for the year.

In all, operating expenses increased 88% in 2022, led by a $159 million jump in the cost of tours compared to 2021.

Factors included higher fuel, crew, and land-based operations costs. While fuel is traditionally only 3% to 4% of Lindblad's overall costs, it accounted for 7% of revenue last year. However, this not only reflects higher fuel prices, but also the fact that more ships actively carried guests last year.

The cruise operator spent $33 million more on sales and marketing in 2022 compared to 2021. "Digital transformation initiatives," as Felenstein described them, helped to drive traffic to Lindblad's website. According to Berle, digital marketing efforts have "effectively doubled the organic link clicks" and also provide new customer insights through "advanced analytics." 

47% higher bookings than 2019

And digital efforts have converted into future bookings, with January enjoying 50% higher bookings than in 2022 and 2019. In fact, 2023 bookings are up 47% compared to the same time in 2019.

Berle said a "more robust" omnichannel marketing approach has complemented Lindblad's traditional combination of email and letters. Other initiatives include upgrading core processes and systems to handle a higher volume of bookings and onboard guests. 

Bolstering its management team, Lindblad recently hired a new chief commercial officer, Noah Brodsky, and a new senior vice president for global sales, John Delaney, who will focus on growing and enhancing the company's travel advisor network.

Having solidified its operating rights in the Galápagos Islands for another 20-year period, Lindblad says it wants to strengthen its ties with its Ecuadorean partners.

Why I'm bullish on Lindblad Expeditions stock

While Lindblad Expeditions has endured EBITDA losses for the past two years, its guidance for 2023 shows a positive adjusted EBITDA range of $70 million to $80 million. That's certainly an improvement and should translate to brightened investor sentiment as the year progresses.

Plenty of factors remain outside of company control, but Lindblad Expeditions seems to be making all the right moves considering the demand environment. And the stock still trades 54% down from its March 2021 highs. That leaves plenty of upside potential for when the company re-enters profitable waters.