The one big reason TripAdvisor didn’t seek to acquire Orbitz Worldwide is because TripAdvisor really doesn’t want to become an online travel agency despite the fact that consumers can now book hotels on TripAdvisor sites and apps.
That was the basic message put forward by TripAdvisor CFO Julie Bradley in a rare instance of a top official at a public company expounding on why it didn’t acquire another public company.
And, by the way, Bradley, who made her comments March 9 at the Deutsche Bank 23rd Annual Media, Internet and Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Florida, said TripAdvisor believes that Expedia Inc.’s $1.34 billion acquisition of Orbitz Worldwide would turn out to be neutral to slightly positive for TripAdvisor.
Problems With TripAdvisor’s Biggest Customers
Asked what TripAdvisor’s cost-benefit analysis would be for an Orbitz Worldwide acquisition, Bradley said TripAdvisor is not becoming an online travel agency.
“So I think that would have caused us some challenges with some of our top partners,” Bradley said, referring to the prospect of acquiring Orbitz Worldwide.
After all, TripAdvisor’s largest customers are the Priceline Group and Expedia Inc., the world’s two largest online travel agencies.
The cost synergy factor, including Orbitz Worldwide’s large supplier relations and customer service organizations, “doesn’t line up that well with TripAdvisor,” Bradley said. “It makes more sense for somebody like Expedia to own.”
TripAdvisor is indeed taking consumer bookings on its own sites now through its Instant Booking product but it is done through a partner model, Bradley said, as the hotel or online travel agency actually processes the booking and does customer service in the background.
“They (Orbitz Worldwide) have flights and corporate travel, two areas that are not a big part of TripAdvisor,” Bradley said.
Bradley added that Orbitz’s traffic is mostly domestic U.S. while TripAdvisor’s is mostly international.
There are a few other reasons that TripAdvisor wasn’t interested in Orbitz Worldwide, which Bradley didn’t address. Expedia’s price tag for Orbitz Worldwide of $1.34 billion is a hefty amount and TripAdvisor’s modus operandi is not in making such big acquisitions.
Orbitz Worldwide also isn’t growing very fast organically as one of its 2014 acquisitions, the Travelocity Partner Network, accounted for virtually all of Orbitz’s gross bookings growth last year.
Fear of Big, Bad Expedia? Nah
If you thought that TripAdvisor would fear Expedia Inc.’s acquisition of Orbitz Worldwide because it would make Expedia an even stronger competitor, then guess again.
Bradley believes the acquisition would be neutral to slightly positive for TripAdvisor as a travel media company.
That’s because individual brands, such as Booking.com and Agoda that are part of big online travel companies like the Priceline Group, tend to bid for advertising placements on TripAdvisor independently — and against one another.
That means that Orbitz, eBookers and Hotelclub, all Orbitz Worldwide brands, would continue to bid independently in TripAdvisor when they join Expedia Inc. and that would be neutral for TripAdvisor, according to Bradley.
Bradley argued that the acquisition would be slightly positive for TripAdvisor to the extent that Expedia Inc. would bolster its profits and bid more to acquire traffic. “So it might be slightly positive,” she said.
Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said that its still-pending acquisition of Orbitz Worldwide took place as part of a competitive sales process.
From the way Bradley talked about the lack of synergies between Orbitz Worldwide and TripAdvisor, it is clear that TripAdvisor was not among the bidders.