The Experience Megatrend
Insync Fund Managers
Travel. Remember that? Long plane flights, new places, new people, new ways, new sounds. Whilst many of us look forward to travel once more, is it time to invest in travel? At Insync we believe yes but...... it all depends on how and where.
The Experience Megatrend, of which travel is a component, is one of 16 megatrends in the Insync portfolio. Like a giant tidal wave, megatrends tend to be very large, long lived and unstoppable. Therefore, it is unusual for us to sell out of stocks benefitting from megatrends. However, after an extended period of lockdowns and travel restrictions from a one-off global event reaching into the very heart of travel, it had become clear to us that the nature of travel was going to change in the post Covid world. We sold out of the pure play travel companies and studied deeper into what was probable in the years to come in travel.
The extent of the fall in travel has been unprecedented as seen in this next chart. Destinations worldwide lost a staggering 1 billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in 2019. This compares with the 4% decline recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis (GFC).
Unquestionably, an individual's deep desire to travel is hardwired into human DNA- a developed and privileged means of human wandering. Whilst we cannot know how long the pandemic will last, we are certain that when it is once again safe to travel, people's desire to travel will boom once again.
However, the pandemic has changed the playing field around traveller behaviour and habits, and this impacts the businesses involved with travel in a myriad of ways.
New expectations have emerged, prompting travel providers to take heed and reassess how they cater to those shifting demands. Therefore, the winners - those that can deliver high ROIC and sustainable growth, in travel post-covid, are not yet clear.
Some recent trends in travel habits we have been observing include:
The one area that is highly likely to change structurally, and in a negative way, is corporate travel. As many businesses have now transitioned into a hybrid work environment, with remote working and meeting tools normalising, there's no question that businesses will look to lower costs and travel risks.
Mckinsey estimate that business travel will recover to only around 80% of pre-pandemic levels by 2024. This is important to businesses such as airlines and hotels et al, as business travellers represent a large and profitable part of the travel sector.
Notwithstanding the human desire to travel, we will see fundamental changes in travel patterns compared to the pre-Covid world. Cruise ships, airlines and hotels might seem like the obvious way to invest in a travel rebound. However, these companies are the higher risk, higher reward options and are a lot less profitable through the cycle. They are capital intensive and highly leveraged by nature. For travel booking engines the future remains unclear. Should a new deadlier viral variant emerge post the delta variant, the recovery would be pushed out again with 'pure' travel stocks facing a sudden price setback.
Insync is focused on identifying profitable winners in the travel megatrend in the post Covid world. Sometimes the winning companies are the less obvious ones. Estee Lauder and Walt Disney represent two examples of highly profitable businesses in the Insync portfolio that are beneficiaries of the recovery and long-term resumption of secular growth in experiences and travel.
Estee Lauder is a highly profitable company benefiting from the wellness and beautification global megatrend. The pandemic with its restrictions and uncertainties has not slowed Estee's rise. Premium skin care continues to grow at multiples of global GDP with the online channel representing circa 40% of their sales in key markets.
Travel retail represents 25% of Estee's sales, and this is during the pandemic. In places where travel has resumed, such as China, sales have also recovered quickly. What is remarkable is that despite the collapse in global airline travel consumption the travel channel for Estee has been resilient, declining in only one out of the past six quarters through the pandemic.
Walt Disney's global entertainment focus has produced a variety of interwoven income streams that has seen it do well during the pandemic, and importantly for the recovery, things look even brighter.
Walt Disney is also a major beneficiary of the Streaming Megatrend, building as many subscribers in 2 years that Netflix took 10 years to achieve.
It is also a major beneficiary of a rebound in the Experiences Megatrend. Disney has a loyal following of customers with parents trusting the brand to provide clean, safe entertainment for their children. Families can plan a vacation at a Disney theme park as their ideal getaway. As a result, Disney has a history of raising prices with no slowdown in customer demand. By example, a Disney World Magic Kingdom Park ticket has more than tripled in price since 2001 (well above inflation), yet every year attendance has continuously increased with the exception of 2020/21 coronavirus lockdown. This trend is highly likely to resume as lockdowns ease.
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