TripAdvisor CEO and co-founder Steve Kaufer is to head the group’s experiences division for 90 days as part of a reorganisation.
The company, which was also undertaking a series of layoffs, was also expected to push Viator as a separate experiences brand and may rebrand the core business.
Other changes included the appointment of current president of core experiences, Lindsay Nelson, as chief experience & brand officer, heading brand marketing, loyalty, and new ventures, with the responsibility for growing advertising and media sales beyond travel.
The company’s most-recent earnings call saw Kaufer describe a quarter “more difficult than we had anticipated” which had “somewhat dampened our outlook for the remainder of the year”. The CEO said that the group would “simultaneously invest in growth areas, fund opportunistic M&A and return cash to shareholders to drive long-term shareholder value”.
The group reported “incremental SEO headwinds” as a result of Google’s activities in the sector, with Kaufer commenting: “It’s always hard to know exactly what Google is doing. I think you’re seeing this across the industry as Google has gotten more aggressive. We’ve been predicting this for the past many years.
“We know that this SEO piece is an ongoing trend and we’re not predicting that it’s going to turn around. We’re doing a better and better job of making or helping our travellers find the right hotel when they’re in hotel shopping mode, and then our focus around the whole TripAdvisor brand is enabling folks and offering many more reasons why they want to come back to TripAdvisor to plan the considered trip.
“Google is up funnel from us. Our answer is not for people that think of us as a meta search engine for hotels but to think of us as a site to plan an amazing vacation. And that’s not the space that others occupy. You can’t go to Google or an OTA or any of our incredibly strong competitors and look for recommendations from people like you about where to go and how to maximise your precious vacation time.
“We already have the scale so it’s not a scale issue. As a considered trip as planning the whole vacation, we believe we are the ones best suited to address that need.”
Commenting on experiences, Kaufer said: “TripAdvisor has hundreds of millions of travellers each and every month planning this considered trip and finding that great thing to do is part of that equation.
“And so with the supply – I’d say with the firm lead, with excellent connectivity, with the rebuild tech stack in many different parts, now we can work on the demand side converting the demand that’s already on Trip, that’s already on Viator, it’s already flowing through our third parties into finding the right product for the right individual. It’s a personalised recommendation. It’s a frictionless consumer path. It’s the right reminders in trip and preplanning all to help.”
CFO Ernst Teunissen added: “Competitors are investing as well but we were early at this game and we’ve invested way ahead of the competition so far. We have the largest supply base. Travellers already planning a leisure trip are looking for something to do and we have plenty of supply footprint to satisfy most of that demand. We need to become better at matching that demand.”
The end of last year saw TripAdvisor form a joint venture with Ctrip under the name TripAdvisor China. Trip.com Group will be the majority shareholder, with TripAdvisor owning 40% of the joint venture.
“TripAdvisor is a leading global travel platform and an ideal partner for Trip.com Group,” said Jane Sun, CEO, Trip.com Group. “As we expand our footprint overseas, it is important that we offer not only seamless access to global travel inventory, but also quality reviews, opinions and pictures generated by other fellow travellers. We are very excited about this strategic partnership, which will undoubtedly further enhance the travel experience for our customers worldwide.”
Insight: As we saw last week with Trivago, times are not auspicious in the world of the meta-search engines, no matter how much you would like to see yourself as not a meta-search engine at all, but an all-round source for holiday booking.
TripAdvisor has done better than its rivals in the eyes of the analysts over the years, who have kept its share price reasonably cheery, because they have suspected that it will be scooped up by a rival at some point. Why do they think this? Because of all the unique content, content which TripAdvisor is still working out how to monetise.
It has been taken for granted that these reviews - over 730 million of them - are a source of great power and potential wealth. But are they? There is no denying that TripAdvisor plays a role in the booking of many hotels, but as a failsafe, as a way to check that you’re not going to turn up and find the place is still being built, or is a murder house, or has a bar playing 24/7 rock operas.
But do you choose a hotel based on the so-called wisdom of the crowd? Not as much as they would like, because, well, it’s a crowd. TripAdvisor is not the only source of information out there any more and, despite recent efforts to clean up its reviews, it has picked up a reputation for not always being as truthful as possible.
But more presciently given that we’re all moving towards being a robot hinterland, it’s not reviews by people like us. You have no idea what the personal tastes are of the people reviewing and this makes it hard to make a leap into a hotel - or an experience. This didn’t matter so much when TripAdvisor was the only source of information, but with the growth of AI, soon there will be more reliable ways to fit your needs and interests to the right hotel for you, and Barry from Bognor who fell out with the barmaid on his trip is unlikely to have much to do with it.