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Kayak co-founder and CEO Steve Hafner admits the company’s international efforts have been “crappy” so far, but it is determined to expand in Europe, particularly given the new muscle it would have as a Priceline subsidiary.
With a presence outside the U.S. in countries including Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, India, Brazil and Russia, Hafner termed only three as “meaningful,” and indicated that France, the UK, Italy, Germany and Spain are ripe for expansion.
Speaking at the PhoCusWright conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, Hafner said most of these markets already have significant competitors, but Kayak will attempt to expand. He was particularly enthused about Kayak’s prospects in Russia, where the online travel agency market is heating up, providing potential partners.
He noted that having a great product isn’t enough because “you need people on the ground, and Kayak now has more people — mostly Europeans — working in its Zurich headquarters than in the U.S.
Hafner recalled how he didn’t predict the rise in mobile apps several years ago, telling co-founder and chief technology officer Paul English that no one would search for travel using a smartphone and, if they did, they’d use a browser.
“Paul went ahead and did it [created an app] anyway,” Hafner said.
More than 20 milliion downloads later, Kayak is in a premier position in mobile, Hafner said.
“Now we have a leadership position in mobile, which I think will be difficult to dislodge us from,” Hafner said.
Hafner also managed to take some shots at Google Flight Search, which has been a competitve pressure and was a major factor in delaying Kayak’s now-successful IPO.
“We are delighted by the measured progress Google is making in the space,” Hafner said, trumpeting criticism that Google Flight Search has been slow out of the gate.
He also implied that Google — of all companies — may have a talent problem in developing its travel offerings, adding that travel search is “really hard.”
“You have to have your best people focusing on it,” Hafner said. “I’m not sure that is true of every competitor in the space.”