LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS HLDGS INC (LIND) Q4 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

Logo of jester cap with thought bubble.

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Q4 2020 Earnings Call
Mar 09, 2021, 4:30 p.m. ET


  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Good morning, and welcome to the Lindblad Expeditions, Inc. fourth-quarter 2020 financial results conference call. [Operator instructions] Please note, this event is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to Craig Felenstein, chief financial officer.

Please go ahead.

Craig FelensteinChief Financial Officer

Thank you, Kate. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us for Lindblad’s 2020 fourth-quarter and full-year earnings call. With me on the call today is Sven Lindblad, our founder and chief executive officer. Sven will begin his opening comments, and then I will follow with some details on our financial results and liquidity before we open the call for Q&A.

You can find our latest earnings release in the investor relations section of our website, along with the presentation regarding the acquisitions that we announced this morning. Before we get started, let me remind everyone that the company’s comments today may include forward-looking statements. Those expectations are subject to risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results and performance to be materially different from these expectations. The company cannot guarantee the accuracy of any forecast or estimates, and we undertake no obligation to update any such forward-looking statements.

If you would like more information on the risks involved in forward-looking statements, please see the company’s SEC filings. In addition, our comments may reference non-GAAP financial measures. A reconciliation of the most directly comparable GAAP financial measures and other associated disclosures are contained in the company’s earnings release. And with that out of the way, let me turn the call over to Sven.

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Craig, and good morning to everybody. Appreciate you joining us today. While preparing for this review for 2020 and my thoughts on the future, I looked back at my comments from a year ago on our 2019 year-end call. I couldn’t have been more wrong as it related to expectations regarding the effects of COVID-19.

This turned out to be very different than SARS, 9/11, the 2008-2009 economic crash, and really anything else, I or you have ever experienced. This is now an event that has shut down our and most other travel businesses globally for a year. And while we are optimistic that we will be selling again soon, exactly when that will be is still not certain. No one in our lifetime has experienced such a long-lasting business interruption outside of war.

As Charles Darwin suggested in the seminal book, The Origin of Species. It is not the most intellectual who’d survived, it is not the strongest that survives, but the species which survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it lives. In Lindblad Expeditions, we are indeed adaptable. And the entire organization is very much focused on how not to let this crisis go to waste.

We have done it before over our last 40 years, and we are determined to come out of this pandemic, a strong and vibrant company who are here once again to take our guests to the world’s most remarkable destinations. So what have we done that ensures that this will be the case. First and foremost, we short up our capital position. Craig will discuss this further, but it started immediately upon shutting down our operations last March and is still a focus point today.

We have been inordinately successful at cutting costs across all facets of the company without destroying the fabric that aimed at. We also were opportunistic with regards to raising additional capital externally. In August, we added $85 million through a preferred stock offering. And in December, we added an additional $85 million of low interest funds by the Main Street Lending Program.

As a result, we ended the year with over $200 million in total cash, which provides ample runway as we return to operations, which allows us to further invest in augmenting our future. One of the areas that we continue to invest in significantly is the building — building our capabilities across our marketing platform. There was a process that we had started in earnest prior to the pandemic solution now, which we had paused once the pandemic took hold. As you may be aware, we hired a new Chief Marketing Officer at the end of the year, David Goodman, who was previously the Head of Global Marketing and Digital Media at Sotheby’s.

And the architect of the long — of their online digital platform. He has hit the ground running. We are taking advantage of the current low in operations and redirecting resources, both financial and human to come out of COVID with vastly more powerful the marketing end and build for growth. We’ve already grown our social followers by 150% over the last quarter.

We are planning on launching a new website during the second quarter with our new reservation system to follow. The end result would be a more dynamic platform, leveraging data insights to be more efficient and effective with our marketing spend. Asides for investing in our existing operations, we’re also using our strong capital position to continue broadening our product platform to serving our numerous cliental interested in diverse travel experiences. Natural Habitat was the first with stunning results prior to the pandemic, having more than doubled its contribution in 2019 from when we acquired the company in 2016.

And we are using the lessons learned from that acquisition regarding the expansion of our addressable market, cross-promotion, product marketing, and system integration is a blueprint for the latest additions to our platform. We are extremely pleased to announce the acquisition of two additional companies joining our portfolio that are natural confidence to our existing product offerings, Off the Beaten Path is a Bozeman Montana company that was founding the goal of facilitating exclusive recreational possibilities, largely in the American West and the Southwest. It has since expanded its geographic reach, but still remains focused on the core business as originally envisioned, the North American National Parks. Has known and work with Off the Beaten Path for the past two decades.

When we were in our Shells Newland business, we collaborated on a variety of programs, including extensions to some of our ship expeditions with them. Cory Lawrence, the CEO, is an outstanding leader, and he’s enthusiasts and continue to review the OBP into this next phase of growth. DuVine Cycling + Adventure Company was founded in 1996 by Andy Levine, who is still the company’s CEO. DuVine is a very high-end adventure travel company exploring the world by bicycle.

Biking, in general, is exploding, particularly with greater production and use of e-bikes, which significantly broadens the demographics of potential participants in bicycle touring. I’m extremely excited about bringing this self-powered form of travel into our orbit. As people become more and more health conscious, this business should naturally grow an appeal and the cross-marketing potentially be significant and accelerated DuVine’s growth. Together with now having these businesses dramatically increase our addressable market, and we’re at the beginnings of creating a platform that can accommodate multiple interest and as a consequence, keep travelers in the family, so to speak.

We can cross-market and develop technological synergies, that smaller companies could never justify or afford. It’s very exciting as when you look at the possibilities that our platform can provide, expedition, cruising, price Africa, expedition of U.S. National Parks, Biking through Bergen to name a few. And the opportunity to combine packages using the expertise of all the companies is endless.

These two new additions are relatively small but very focused on what they do and are the top of the food chain in terms of quality and trust. Each in isolation may not be overly contributed financially today, however, most like Nat Hab, we see real opportunity to grow them in the years ahead. And certainly, they will add value to our brand more broadly as a diverse high-end travel aggregate. We are the ideal of company to aggregate unique small brands and make them into a bigger hole.

We know how to energize the key elements that made them it attractive. We are insiders. We understand their worlds. We respect and value the founders we know where we can help and learn to not get in the way.

We could find more information regarding these acquisitions in the presentation we have posted to our website this morning. As we integrate Off the Beaten Path and DuVine, we continue to look for additional opportunities to broaden and deepen our product platform while also evaluating a variety of options to further increase the capacity of our fleet. Since 2017, we have added three new boats to the fleet with the fourth, the National Geographic Resolution anticipated for delivery in Q4 this year. In the addition of the Resolution, we will have increased our available guest nights by more than 70% over the last four years.

And thus far, we have been able to maintain occupancy levels and expand on net yields at the same time. There is certainly a growing demand for expedition travel and our long track record of delivering authentic and immersive experiences positions us well to capitalize on this trend in a thoughtful manner. This balanced strategy of focused on expanding our existing operations are responsibly adding to our current fleet and acquiring companies which broaden our platform is, in my belief, a solid approach to growing Lindbald Expeditions over the long term, and we believe our offerings are particularly well suited for the times. These recent articles are just two, which reinforce our value proposition.

Nature, wellness, and giving back are trending for 2021 travel, Forbes Magazine February 7, 2021. Nature, wellness, and giving back having space to be is the new luxury. Travelers are seeking remote destinations and all open spaces. Second article, how we’ll travel in 2021 from the Financial Times, “a post lockdown yarning for open space, along with anxiety about crowded spaces has brought remote empty destination to the top of many issues for 2021.” And there are more and more articles out there every day talking about this phenomena.

People want to travel. There’s pent-up demand and they want very often to go to places that are not crowded. While we are well positioned for sustained long-term growth, we are obviously focused on returning to operations. Nearly 12 months with suspended sailing has been far longer than anyone would have anticipated last March.

Our start-up team continues to work diligently on our robust set of streams and protocols. And we are in constant dialogue with local authorities where we have long-standing relationships. And guest demand remains strong from both returning traveler as well as new audiences. We have canceled all voyages through the end of May, but remain optimistic that we will return to the operation in June with a focus on Alaska, Galápagos, and Iceland.

As unit looks like most, if not all, above the markets, where we had the opportunity to be vaccinated, which clearly will accelerate demand. Looking ahead, we are already well positioned with strong bookings for the back half of the year and throughout 2022. And the pent-up demand we are seeing in the market will build upon the strength. Before I finish up, let me speak to the idea of giving back.

And I’m happy to see that that the business community and media are beginning to recognize the importance of this more broadly. The human brain is wired with definite priority. We are extremely well suited to swire out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. We react swiftly and with urgency where it fits as a day or a second life.

In other words, we rewired to respond to clear and imminent threats. Not so much those that unfold over time like climate change or a potential collapse of biodiversity. These are real challenges that if not directly and urgently faced will create unbelievably bleak future for generations to come. I believe that the travel industry has both an opportunity and a responsibility to engage our audiences with not only the wonder of what we provide them.

But also with an understanding of the challenges of these business face in ways in which it as a consequence of how we experienced the place, help to support. We have used our unique position with has some support to prices we have come to love and which has given us so much joy and business value. In 2019, we committed as a company to build carbon neutral, meaning that we went deep into all our activities in order to find creative ways to reduce emissions. Those that remain have been offset 100%, all our ships, our offices, and staff has been crude trub.

Our guests appreciate this and perhaps look a bit differently at their own ends. Each year, we part as part of the Lindblad Expeditions National Geographic Fund raised between $1.5 million and $2 million from our guests to support conservation science, education and exploration. 100% of these funds directly support specific projects. Our guests really appreciate being able to participate.

This year, we launched the Galápagos Island Relief Fund. In the Galápagos over 80 — for 80% of all employment relies on tourist. They have been devastated. Their health and well-being are critical to the health and protection of the ecosystem, a global jewel.

The fund is a microloan program with an initial goal of $500,000 between the company, our Board of Directors and in my wife personally, we offered a challenge ground of $150,000, we gave our Galápagos travelers an opportunity to participate. To date, the fund together with the measures it has raised over $308,000, and we easily reach our goal in the second round of fundraise. Our guests really appreciate this opportunity and the people of Galápagos even more so. Why is this important in an earnings call because success is made up of many parts and social responsibility is an important component.

It matters. Guests appreciate the efforts personnel value what we do and the people in places where we try to appreciate our efforts as well. And our cumulative efforts are meaningful in terms of the work done. I’m totally convinced that these sensibilities are core to our success as a brand and our legislation.

We’ve been at this for decades. We’ve built the business based on respect and understanding of geography, the same for the aspirations of our guests. We offer something that people deep, deeply want, and perhaps even need. A connection with wonder, authenticity, and the opportunity to explore.

We represent optimism in a troubled world. We are ready to emerge in this traumatic dark time, and build, and grow, and capitalize on the frustration that people have had in being restricted. We are ready with open arms to guided [Inaudible] inspiration, exploration, and joy to the millions who have been denied all of this for over a year. We will thrive in the post-COVID world, we will grow in a post-COVID world, and we will succeed in the post-COVID world.

Thank you for your time today, and now let me turn the call over to Craig.

Craig FelensteinChief Financial Officer

Thanks, Sven. Before I begin, let me once again thank our dedicated crew across the world, as well as our diligent office personnel for the resiliency during this uncertain period, and for their commitment in preparing us to return to operations while preserving capital wherever possible. It has been nearly a year since we closed our operations, and we continue to execute on the comprehensive plan we put in place back in March of last year to fortify our liquidity position. This was and remains an imperative for two reasons.

First, given the uncertainty around when operations resume and how quickly they will ramp back to normal levels, we want to ensure we emerge from the COVID pandemic as the same strong and vibrant company we were prior to the cessation of operations. With expanded capacity and the ability to capitalize on the growing demand for expedition travel. Second, there’ll be a strong liquidity runway allows us to be opportunistic with regards to additional growth drivers, both organically and through targeted acquisitions. As a result of the proactive steps we took this past year, we ended 2020 with $188 million in unrestricted cash and $17 million in restricted cash related primarily to deposits on voyages that originate in the United States, a $95 million increase over where we ended 2019.

We previously discussed the reduction of our cash burn, which I will highlight for Q4 in a moment as well as the $85 million we raised in August through the issuance of redeemable preferred stock to a diversified group of high-quality, long-term focused investors. This past quarter, we further enhanced our liquidity position with the issuance of $85 million under the Main Street Expanded Loan Facility program. This loan, which has a five-year tenure and carries an interest rate of LIBOR plus 3% and has solidified that when we emerge from this pandemic later this year, we will do so as a strong company poised to regain the momentum we had prior to the virus. It also provided us additional financial flexibility to look for opportunities to augment our long-term growth profile.

And as you have seen, we did just that with our recent acquisitions of DuVine and Off the Beaten Path. Sven has walked you through the strategic rationale of each, so let me lay out the financial parameters. Combined, the total acquisition price was approximately $10.5 million, comprised of $8.7 million in cash and $1.8 million of Lindblad stock. While not yet material to our current earnings, as Sven mentioned, we do believe there is a significant opportunity to grow these businesses given their strong brands and attractive addressable markets, combined with our marketing platform, expertise, and resources.

Plus we have a blueprint, having grown Natural Habitat from $3.9 million in EBITDA in 2016, the year we acquired them to over $8.6 million in 2019. We also think this is just the beginning, and we will look to continue to be opportunistic on both the M&A and organic growth front. Turning to our operations. During the fourth quarter, all of our ships remain safely weight out with the minimally required crew, and we continue to minimize ship and land-based expedition operating and capital costs.

We did spend a little over $1 million on maintenance capex this past quarter, primarily due to dry docks for the Explorer and Endeavour II, as we prepare to resume sailing. For the full-year 2020, we managed to reduce maintenance capex by over 70% versus our original budget for the year. On the advertising and marketing front, we suspended the majority of our spend during the fourth quarter, focusing primarily on digital opportunities and paid media that was generating appropriate returns with regards to future bookings. And we continue to minimize general and administrative spending through employee furloughs, workload reductions, and elimination of all nonessential travel, office expenses, and discretionary spending.

Looking at the P&L, the measures we have taken enabled us to reduce total operating expenses before depreciation and amortization, interest factors by 70% during the fourth quarter versus the same quarter a year ago. On the cash front, we lowered our cash spend this past quarter to $26 million, which included approximately $18 million in operating costs, $5 million in principal and interest payments, and $3 million in capex. The cash usage was partially offset by the positive net cash flow from guests as payments for future travel exceeded guest refunds on rescheduled voyages. On the voyages canceled and rescheduled thus far, which primarily includes expeditions through the end of May, the majority of our guests continue to opt for future travel credits as opposed to full refunds.

And as I mentioned last call, our refund exposure is significantly lower moving forward as the majority of our unearned revenue is for travel where the guests have already decided on their future travel plans. Turning to current booking trends. Demand for travel continues to be very strong, and we are well situated for once we return to operations later this year as well as for 2022. The bookings for the back half of 2021 are currently in line with where they were for the second half of 2022 a year ago.

And when you look ahead to next year, we are currently 37% ahead of where we were for 2021 at the same time a year ago. The strong year-on-year trends reflect guest — do reflect guests on cancel voyages that have opted to reschedule, but they only make up about one-fourth of our bookings for the remainder of this year and 16% for 2022. We are also seeing strong new bookings from both returning guests as well as new audiences. And we have only just begun to market in earnest, focusing on digital targeting and social opportunities as well as increased outreach through trade advertising and travel advisors.

Based on the feedback we are getting from guests, we believe that there is significant pent-up demand to get out and explore the world’s amazing geographies, and these efforts will secure additional bookings for this year as well as next. As we work toward resuming operations, we estimate that our cash usage will return to $10 million to $15 million monthly on average, including all ship and office operating expenses, necessary capital expenditures, and expected interest and principal payments but excluding any new guest payments for future travel and refunds of previously made guest payments. This includes the ramp in marketing spend I just referred to, spending on our digital transformation project, and bringing back furloughed employees as necessary to prepare for a resumption in operations. Looking at our debt obligations.

We ended the year with $496 million in principal outstanding, an increase of $266 million from the end of 2019. This reflects the incremental $85 million Main Street Loan during the fourth quarter as well as the drawdown of $45 million under our revolver earlier in the year. During the year, we also borrowed $108 million in conjunction with our final payment upon delivery of the National Geographic Endurance in March and an additional $30.5 million for the third installment payment for the National Geographic Resolution in April. With regards to our leverage covenants, the company has worked with its lenders to amend its existing credit agreements, including suspension of leverage ratio covenants through June 30, 2021.

Turning to our expectations for 2021. Due to the uncertainties around COVID-19, we are not providing P&L guidance at this time. We will continue to update our anticipated cash usage as circumstances evolve. Aside from our operational cash usage, we anticipate maintenance capex in the $15 million to $17 million range, which includes modification of ventilation systems across our fleet to increase fresh airflow and mitigate the spread of contaminants.

For growth capex, which includes costs for the resolution and spending on our digital projects, is projected to be between $75 million and $80 million this year. This does not factor in any potential new ship builds that we continue to explore. The remaining contract installment payments on the resolution are fully covered by our second export credit agreement with $15 million scheduled to be drawn in April and $45 million drawn upon delivery of the ship, which is still anticipated to be toward the end of this year. Lastly, in 2021, we will also have approximately $10 million in principal payments, predominantly for payments under our export credit agreements.

As we move close to resuming operations, the steps we have taken to reduce costs and increase our liquidity runway will enable us to emerge from this pandemic as a strong company ready to once again capitalize on the growing demand for expedition travel. At the same time, the strategic steps we are taking to expand and enhance our product platform will provide us further avenues to drive long-term growth and build additional shareholder value in the years to come. Thank you for your time this morning. And now Sven and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Questions & Answers:


[Operator instructions] Our first question comes from Steve Wieczynski of Stifel. Please go ahead.

Steven WieczynskiStifel Financial Corp. — Analyst

Hey, guys, good morning. So, Sven, I want to be sure that I heard you right, but it sounds like you fully expect to be operational now in June and at some capacity level, and that’s — it sounds like a focus around Alaska. And I think that’s pretty important, given the — obviously, the bigger cruise operators are essentially going to be restricted from that market this year. So I guess the question is, I assume that demand for that type of product is — has to be extremely, extremely strong.

And I guess, are there any issues with getting your passengers into position to actually get to Alaska, and hopefully, that all makes sense.

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. No, I do not believe there is an issue with getting our passengers or guests to Alaska at all. We have a very deep relationship with Alaska Airlines, which has been cultivated over many decades actually. And we’re in constant conversation with them about how the landscape is changing, when we’re anticipating starting, et cetera, et cetera.

As I think I’ve mentioned before as well, we’ve had a team in place since the very beginning of the pandemic or starting in April of last year where — whose charge is to really constantly emulate new information in terms of opportunities related to protocols, vaccines, et cetera. And so that’s been a very dynamic aspect of our business, and we talk about it, literally every day in our management meetings. Where are we? What have we learned? Is this a — does it change the landscape at all? And we believe everything is moving in a very, very positive direction. Certainly, in terms of people getting vaccinated, which is a total game-changer.

And we believe that, certainly, by the end of June, pretty much everybody in the United States, who wants to be vaccinated would have had the opportunity that — and certainly most people in our demographic by the end of May will have been given the opportunity vaccinated. So this is a big, big deal in terms of getting the world moving again in relationship to travel.

Steven WieczynskiStifel Financial Corp. — Analyst

OK. Got you. Thanks. And then second question would be really a bigger picture question of just about competition.

And obviously, there’s a lot of competition these days for markets like an Arctic, the Galápagos, where it seems like every operator is trying to move some type of asset into those markets. So I guess the question is, what keeps you guys at this point in such a good position? I mean, is it something that your assets at this point can go to places where other competitors can’t go? Is it the length of service of your captains? Or how would you position yourselves? Or what do you tell folks in terms of the way you market yourselves as to why you should take a Lindblad product versus somebody else’s?

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Well, just using Galápagos, as an example, the amount of new entrants really isn’t changing. There are a certain number of these licenses. They’re called cupos.

And what they do is they occasionally change hands from one company to another. But the maximum number of people nor the number of us coupes hasn’t changed in many, many, many years. So unlike Antarctica, where anyone who wants to go down there can basically do that. That’s not true in the Galápagos.

And in — but in Antarctica, certainly, Norden number of ships have been built and are continuing to be built. And they are focusing on these polar areas for a variety of reasons. And so it is going to become certainly more competitive, but there’s also — it’s happening because there’s clearly they find growing interest in the geography. I believe that our leg forward, if you will, is we are the pioneers of these — of most regions of the world, actually, but certainly, Antarctica.

My father began in his company brings people to Antarctica in 1966. And so there’s a legacy factor that has been built into a trust factor that I believe is meaningful. We put tremendous priority into the quality of our marine teams because I don’t care what anybody says Antarctica does pose unusual circumstances that can become threatening to people who are not incredibly well trained. So our captains have been down Antarctica over 100 times.

And they know the area backwards and forwards and our expedition leaders and the officers on the bridge they’re just extremely knowledgeable. And we talked about that a lot because we believe if it’s not important to people, it should be. And it’s a very distinguishing factor. I don’t believe anybody else has the depth and experience.

The depths of personnel and the depth of respect for that geography, and in fact, every geography, but that one happens to be one where you need to a bit more respect than a lot of others because it can hurt you if you don’t.

Steven WieczynskiStifel Financial Corp. — Analyst

OK, gotcha. Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.


The next question is from Chris Woronka of Deutsche Bank. Please go ahead.

Chris WoronkaDeutsche Bank — Analyst

Hey, good morning, guys. Wanted to ask — again, you sound pretty confident that you’ll be able to get back in a couple of months. How do you say some of the change in protocols that you’re going to be required to do in all various vaccinations. How have those kind of changed and evolved over the past couple of months? And are you pretty certain at this point that the goalposts don’t move again at the last minute?

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I don’t believe that those goalposts will move in a negative way. We’ve been so deeply in turn or engaged with people, not only from the CDC, but from the State of Washington, the medical community there — I can’t never hear title right now, but the Director of Health in Alaska. And we knew that various requirements were going to be developed even before they were.

And we were really on top of those and began constructing our protocols around what we anticipated it was coming. And so I do believe that our protocols are the strongest in the industry, the strongest in the industry. And I believe the authorities recognize that. And in certain instances, they’ve looked at our approach to this as a potential blueprint to what they might require industrywide.

I don’t want to be specific about the institutions right now, but it’s absolutely the case. And — so we feel really buttoned up as it relates to protocols. We’ve made changes on our ships — physical changes on our ships as it relates to ventilation systems where necessary. I mean we’ve really put in the hard work to make ourselves almost impossible to reject going forward.

Craig FelensteinChief Financial Officer

Hey, Chris, it’s Craig. One of the other things that I’ll mention is some of the requirements have certainly changed over time. And the steps that I’ve taken previously, will make it easier to deal with those moving forward, especially because some of the things that we’re going to have to do will be less relevant. So for example, when we first started looking at getting back into operations, one of the things that we spent a fair amount of time on was charter flights for the various destinations that we serve.

With the advent of the vaccinations, those charter flights, many of them will not be necessary. So the cost components of those certainly go way down. We’ve also secured the testing requirements, the testing capabilities have already been solidified for us. So we already have the capabilities of doing that, how much we have to do that and how often remains to be seen.

But we already have the capabilities to do that. So I think a lot of the investment that we needed to make has already been done. And if anything, moving forward, it will be less restrictive than we originally anticipated.

Chris WoronkaDeutsche Bank — Analyst

OK. Thanks. Very helpful. And then on the acquisitions you announced this morning, both look pretty interesting.

Question is, as you look forward, I mean, I guess how broadly can you cast the net? And then from a more of a financial point of view, how do you underwrite these in terms of — is it a value — potential value of a customer that you might acquire? Or is it something else in terms of making these businesses not just more profitable bottom line but growing their top line? Is it difficult for us to just get a better understanding of how you underwrite some of the smaller companies that you see?

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. And then Craig might weigh in as well. But here’s the basis of it. Our travelers and we’ve known that for a long time, are very — they’re very — I’m nervous in their interest.

So you might run into somebody in Antarctica in one year, the next year, they’ll be on a safari in Africa, the following year, they want to travel around the Southern France or whatever. And at the end of the day, if we create a family of companies that can provide interesting opportunities in their — in the areas of their diverse interest. Like for example, if you have a family that one day came with us — grandmother organized three generation — they came to Antarctica. That’s a very extravagant decision.

And they may not do that type thing again. For many, many years, but they’ll do other things because they’re kind of committed to doing things as a family. So the more we can offer them, the more we can keep them and their family, so to speak. And the cost of acquiring a new guest drops dramatically once they’ve had a positive experience.

And so this notion of keeping them in the family to us is a big deal. It’s very, very cost effective. It’s been proven with — I have — I mean, a cross-marketing between ourselves and Nat Hab has just grown exponentially year after year after year. And it’s become really meaningful for both organizations.

And it keeps them — if we’re smart enough in creating a broad enough platform, which we’re absolutely committed to do, it keeps them from going or needing to go elsewhere. And there are so many benefits as a consequence with that.

Craig FelensteinChief Financial Officer

Yeah, I’ll add on top of that, Sven, aside from capturing a greater share of wallet from the existing travelers, you’re also going to be able to help them to increase their loans, right? So these are very strong businesses and very strong brands that were built by some very strong founders and what we bring to the table is we bring in operating expertise that we’ve been doing for many, many years, even before we acquired Natural Habitat, but now including Natural Habitat. And if you could increase the occupancy across all of these opportunities, you’ll certainly be able to ramp revenue relatively quickly. You look at what happened with Natural Habitat having gone from $45 million of revenue back in 2016 to supposed to have been well over $80 million of revenue in 2020. It’s a pretty fast ramp, and that was done partially by cross promotion, partially by adding additional marketing leverage, partially by adding increased occupancy.

So we think there’s a unique opportunity across both of these assets moving forward.

Chris WoronkaDeutsche Bank — Analyst

OK, very helpful. Thanks, guys.


The next question is from Greg Pendy of Sidoti. Please go ahead.

Greg PendySidoti & Company — Analyst

Yeah. Just a quick question. In light of the digital marketing hire, I believe pre-COVID, you guys made a — had a step-up year in your marketing efforts. And if I’m correct on that, just, I guess, it sounds to me like you might be moving more in the digital direction.

Is that the case? And kind of what is the net run rate when things normalize, that we should be thinking about, if that’s correct?

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

I’m not sure how I answer the net run rate part of the question. So it’s —

Greg PendySidoti & Company — Analyst

I’m just curious, is there going to be savings as you move more dollar — if you’re moving more dollars toward digital advertising, is this a potential savings effort from — or is it just a better return on what you’re seeing out there that more dollars moving into digital advertising is just giving you a better return?

Craig FelensteinChief Financial Officer

Yeah, let me take that, Sven, and you can chime in afterwards. So the question is an interesting one because you’re not comparing apples-to-apples, right? So you can vent to where we are today versus where we were pre-pandemic, the amount of inventory that we have across our ecosystem has gone up dramatically. We’ve increased the number of beds, we’ve increased the number of high-priced beds. So the notion of reducing marketing is probably not at the forefront of what we’re trying to accomplish here, especially given the explosion that we’re seeing in the space.

We want to be able to capitalize on the explosion of the space. But what we will be able to do because of this digital transformation is we can be much more efficient with that spend. So we’ll be able to target folks with regards to the marketing materials that they’re receiving in a much more focused manner, which will allow us to have a higher return on the marketing dollars that we’re spending. And we can also be a lot more flexible.

It’s a lot easier to turn this bigot on or off when you’re looking at digital spend than versus when you send a hardcore brochure. So, it’s going to be a marriage of the old and the new as we move forward, and we’ll be much more efficient as we move forward, and we can certainly tweak that up or down based off the returns that we’re getting as we’re spending.

Greg PendySidoti & Company — Analyst

Great. That’s helpful. And then just one final one. As things return normalize and you start to ramp back efforts in June, is there any relief you’ll see on dry-docking as the ships have been stationed? Or is that just still kind of in place on a top — goes over every three years or so?

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

No, there won’t be any meaningful difference in terms of dry docking. Some of those dry docks are regulatory. You have to do them every — it depends which ship and which flag, and that won’t change. There’s certain work we just delayed at the moment as a consequence of the pandemic that we’ll do in the future that we had originally planned to do, but no material change.

Greg PendySidoti & Company — Analyst

OK. Thanks a lot.


[Operator instructions] The next question is from Swan Lawrence of Undervalued Shares. Please go ahead.

Unknown speaker

Hi, good morning, everyone. So Sven and Craig, you’ve spoken a lot about building a platform, and you’ve just announced these two acquisitions, neither one of which is a cruise ship company. So this is maybe more a question for Sven. So if you looked out 10 years into the future, would you still see Lindbald Expedition as primarily a cruise ship company? Or would you see something more like a broader travel company specialized in nature and exploration experiences?

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

I think the latter because I think — well, we still — by the way, Swan, nice to hear your voice.

Unknown speaker

Yes, indeed. Yes.

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

It’s been a long time.

Craig FelensteinChief Financial Officer

Yeah. Hope you’re well.

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

Appreciate it. In any case, the expedition ship aspect of the business, I believe, will absolutely be dominant in our entire mix. I see no change to that. But we will — but we will have added a considerable amount of other opportunities because what we really believe we should be doing and are on the path to do, is to be a diversified sort of adventure, experiential travel company.

And there are lots of different ways in which people travel. And I think, applying our ethos to that. And then particularly working with — which is the aspect of this, which I find the most interesting. Founders of companies, travel companies are a special breed of people.

They have deep passion, deep commitment to what they’re doing. And so they are tremendous resources. And what they — you need to have great ideas. You need to have the right capital structure, and you need to have the right ability to attack market what you have.

And very few of these have all of those things. Almost all of them have the first, the ability to create compelling ideas. Most of them don’t necessarily have a deep financial structure, and marketing is elusive to some degree because it’s become a very sophisticated idea, how do you market in today’s world. It’s a — and the advantage that we have is we built a marketing platform, and they’re constantly building and augmenting our marketing platform, built for garnering a 30,000-plus and growing rapidly ship travelers.

And so we can apply a lot of that technology to these companies and give them something that they’ve never really had before rather than having to build everything from scratch all the time, which is what these companies have to do. They have to build all of those systems from scratch, which is limiting when you’re a small company. So, I really look forward to this opportunity to work with entrepreneurs, to work with founders, to recognize and appreciate the extraordinary creations they have developed. And to augment those efforts with some practical structural needs in such a way to make them more — far more productive and far more profitable.

We had considered at one point that we want to build the land business for — we call — we refer to it as the land business ourselves because we were, prior to 9/11, deeply involved in the land business. But what we did after 9/11, we decided to focus purely on our ships and to really focus on where we had fixed commitments. And that turned out to be a very good idea. Focus is a really meaningful idea when it comes to building travel businesses.

And so we decided, no, we were not going to go back and build these ideas ourselves. We are going to develop them through the acquisition of competent-enabled companies. And so now we have three of them. And we are looking very, very closely at where are the next opportunities in this regard.

Unknown speaker

Thank you. That makes a lot of sense. And if I can just ask one follow-up question, please. Obviously, your platform and your marketing depends a lot on the National Geographic link that you have, which is an amazing link.

And there’s always that looming date of that partnership expiring the next time in 2025. I obviously appreciate you can’t look that far into the future. But is there something you can do or you could say to alleviate anyone’s worries about that coming up for renewal in four short years?

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I mean, we — this is a very mutually productive relationship that has now gone on for upwards of 16 years. And so we feel very confident that we will continue beyond 2025 because it will be in our interest and it will be in their interest. And so I just don’t see — it’s a deep, deep, long-standing relationship, and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t continue.

Unknown speaker

Great. Thank you. Best wishes for this amazing year ahead.

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Swan.


This concludes our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference over to Craig Felenstein for closing remarks.

Craig FelensteinChief Financial Officer

Thank you, everybody, for joining us this morning. And we look forward to speaking over the next couple of days about the full year, the fourth quarter, and the acquisitions that we just completed. Thank you.


[Operator signoff]

Duration: 48 minutes

Call participants:

Craig FelensteinChief Financial Officer

Sven LindbladFounder and Chief Executive Officer

Steven WieczynskiStifel Financial Corp. — Analyst

Chris WoronkaDeutsche Bank — Analyst

Greg PendySidoti & Company — Analyst

Unknown speaker

More LIND analysis

All earnings call transcripts

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

Source Article

Next Post

What to Know About Roblox Going Public

Wed Mar 10 , 2021
Photo: Ian Tuttle (Getty Images) Today, the online children’s gaming platform Roblox is dumping 199 million shares of mammon onto the market through its direct listing, which likely means a Black Friday-level mob and hours of free content for CNBC’s Squawk Box on a yet-unprofitable company. Nothing new there, but […]

You May Like