Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Expedia Group
Thank you, Jon. Good afternoon, everybody, and thank you for joining us. Let me start off with a few broad comments about what we experienced in the fourth quarter, which I would say, even though we had to deal with a meaningful Omicron wave and a bunch of disruption in travel and, of course, that would not create more travelers worldwide, it was encouraging in many ways. And I think, what we observed, most notably, is that the issues that it brought were really issues of inconvenience.
There were border shutdowns, there were planes out of service because pilots and crew were sick, things of that nature, but there was far less consumer fear over traveling, and really it was an issue of the convenience of the health issues. What we believe will come from this, presuming the next waves continue in ever lightening way, is that the world has essentially gotten accustomed to the pandemic. It will enter perhaps an endemic phase and governments and industry, etc. will adapt much more new easily as the next waves come, and in turn, this will continue to disrupt travel less and less. And certainly, the consumers have -- remain willing to travel throughout. And with the return of staff for the air and the relief of border issues, we are seeing a solid return to travel.
Eric will take us through the numbers and the trends, but suffice it to say that we are pleased to see that bookings have strongly rebounded since anywhere that Omicron has stopped out, and certainly, we're seeing that broadly across our biggest markets.
I've talked before about mix effects, and I won't belabor those except to say, it continues to be real. Certain areas are doing better than others. Air is more challenged than other parts, geos -- certain geos are more difficult than others, but in general, we feel good that big cities have not recovered as much yet, and that is a good guide for us. International travel is still yet to return as strongly. That is another good guide for us. So, we feel like directionally the things that are -- will be coming back as COVID lightens, generally benefit us and we're looking forward to the days of those returns.
With that said, I'm not really prone to doing retrospectives, but we are starting to focus much more on the future of our business and what we're going to deliver instead of how we manage COVID day to day. And I thought it would be useful for us to just reflect on where we've been, and where we're taking the company over the last couple of years since we entered COVID. So, first of all, the things you've all observed and really have liked is that we've been able to simplify and make the business more efficient. And it's easy to observe and it's important. Obviously, there are more important things to our long-term future, but I'll spend a minute on simplification.
We've been able to use our push for new technology solutions, our push to reorganize the company in a more single goal fashion. We've optimized third-party spending and tools and many things and we've become a much more efficient enterprise. In fact, today -- and we -- I should mention, as you know, we've also shutdown and -- or sold off certain businesses that we believed were non-core. As a result of that, we're running the company now with roughly 10,000 fewer people than we were at the end of 2019, which is a great credit to the people who are here, who have driven a ton of hard work towards that goal of really running the company in a smarter and more efficient, better way. So, that's been the big push there and I would say that as -- we still face challenges with hiring people, we're like all the tech companies, but we have had a great influx of terrific talent. I think that momentum is increasing and that mix with the great talent we have has really created -- put us in a great position as we move forward and as we start to move to really being focused on delivery of new tech, new experiences, and improving the traveler experience as our core fundamental goal.
But as I say, efficiency is not the story here. Efficiency is a great thing we've been able to achieve, but the real story of our future is about what we're doing to drive the business forward. So, just to break that into a few parts, on the demand front, as you know, we've combined our multiple brands, working in silos into one unified house of brands with a singular focus on driving travelers to the right product at the right time. This strategy is built on superior creative, making the brands makes sense together, buying together in an efficient way, and, of course, using performance marketing along with brand to really drive a more efficient way of bringing travelers into our universe.
We believe we are well on our way to that journey. Hope you enjoy our Super Bowl ads in a few days. I think they're terrific. But it is a unified strategy that's about really delivering end-to-end, a great demand generation strategy that is efficient and we believe can drive better outcomes in the future for us. We also believe, as you know, that loyalty will play an important role, and we are bringing our loyalty programs together, and that will begin to take shape over the course of the year, and I think, pay dividends for years and years to come. And we're excited about that.
On the technical front, now, this has really been the heart and soul of what we've been working on, which is getting to a singular platform, so that we can drive a velocity of innovation for travelers and for our partners, and really take travel to the next iteration for the online app-based travel business. We've been on this journey for a while, we've talked about how we're moving multiple stacks into a single stack. That's more than just the like efficiency story or anything else, it's really about building it as a set of microservices with APIs that can be externalized and can more easily be used internally to drive these great outcomes for our travelers and our partners.
And when I say travelers, I really mean all travelers because for the first time as we build this out, we will be able to create innovation in our stack that impacts all our travelers, our B2C travelers, our B2B travelers, all in the same moment. So, when we make an improvement in the checkout path or we make an improvement in the app, all those benefits will inure to the traveler wherever they come from, and it will be able to drive real impact instead of the siloed way we used to have to work our way through it. So, I think, it's a really important step for both how we run our business, how much innovation and velocity we can bring to the travelers and partner experience, and frankly, just generally, how we innovate and drive the entire industry forward. We're really excited about what's coming. It's a big year of delivery for us, but there are amazing things coming we think for the traveler from the discovery elements to the service elements, and everything in between, and again that will inure to the benefit of all travelers in our ecosystem.
And finally, on the B2B side, which is really now an amalgamation of our B2B partners, who drive demand and our partners who bring us supply, and more and more we see that as one universe. We've combined those teams into one group that essentially can have a 360 relationship with any partner, and therefore, any partner can benefit not only from selling into our platform, but also taking services out of our platform. And we think that approach is going to be really powerful. We've got very close to our partners over the pandemic. Obviously, we've had shared challenges and opportunities and we renewed a lot of deals across lodging, air and car. And most of these deals have come with expanded capabilities where we've delivered more for our partners and we believe helped them drive their own businesses to better outcomes. We're excited about this partnership approach. It's no longer just about supply or just about, can we drive them in, it's really about, can we make our partners' businesses better, and we're keenly focused on that.
So, to close, I'll just say, we never count COVID out, we've dealt with fair number of body blows over the last couple of years, but the industry has proven resilient. I think, demand has proven even more resilient and we expect a significant rebound. And while we're excited to drive the rebound, the important thing for us is really delivery. We have to deliver on all the promises we made about how we're going to improve the product, traveler experience, and how we're going to continue to run an efficient and effective business.
And I would just say, ultimately, we believe in the reigniting of travel, we think we're going to play a central role in it. We're not intended to sit back and write it, we want to be important in driving the future of the industry, and we believe, we can bring benefit not only to travelers, not only to our own business, but to the entire travel ecosystem. And that is what we will be focused on this year.
And with that, I'll turn it over to Eric.