Travel-booking CEOs say the darnedest things: the Priceline Group's Darren Huston basically said he didn't waste $4 billion on acquiring HomeAway, like he thinks Expedia did, and Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi let the word out that his company had been shut out of TripAdvisor Instant Booking. One can only wonder what they are saying to one another when they huddle in private.
Say that again?
Sometimes a big-time travel CEO will say something especially insightful about a trend or development, or will unleash a zinger that takes you aback.
Here are a series of quotes from 2015 that are worth repeating and reflecting on:
Priceline Group CEO Didn’t Spend $4 Billion on HomeAway
In one such zinger, Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston commented on Expedia Inc.’s $3.9 billion acquisition of HomeAway and contrasted it with the Priceline Group’s actions in the vacation rental sector.
“I didn’t end up spending $4 billion, and we did it with just a couple of handful of people,” Huston said, referring to building Booking.com’s vacation rental business. “That is an indication of what makes our company special. It’s been organic execution, it has created more value for the company than M&A, and that continues to be our bet.”
Priceline Group’s Huston on Expedia’s Business Practices and Strategy
There have been a lot of layoffs at struggling companies that Expedia Inc. acquired in 2015.
Huston argues that the Priceline Group strategy is to build or acquire leading brands — specialty stores, he calls them — as opposed to Expedia Inc.’s acquisition-consolidation strategy related to brands that have struggled, including Travelocity and Orbitz Worldwide.
“I like playing up that hand better than going in and buying companies that aren’t doing very well, and stripping out all the workforce and slapping them on to a [common platform],” Huston says.
Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston on the ‘Same Customer’
Someone who travels for business on Wednesday and stays in a company-approved hotel may want to travel for leisure and sleep in a vacation rental or Airbnb-type apartment on a long weekend or vacation.
As the Priceline Group’s Huston says, it’s “the same customer.”
“So I think about it, if today the market is very different between the vacation rental buyer and a hotel buyer,” Huston said August 5. “Over time that’ll only coalesce to become a more similar market because all it is human beings looking for a place to stay. And I think that’s generally the case that we’re seeing on our site.”
These trends don’t mean that the characteristics of hotel or vacation rental stay are uniform, Huston pointed out.
“Now certainly vacation rental stays are generally bigger groups, they’re generally longer length of stay, slightly higher ADRs, relatively good take rates,” Huston said. “There’s all these fundamentals that reflect the market of today. But I do believe that those things will continue to change. And I think just like B&Bs used to be a very different thing than hotels, I think over time accommodations will become more similar than less similar because it’s the same customer.”
Expedia’s TripAdvisor Spinoff Remorse
Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowhahi is definitely not remorseful about spinning off TripAdvisor in late 2011 because the transaction led to big bucks for shareholders but he shockingly expressed regrets about what was included in the deal.
In a Skift phone interview with Khosrowshahi and HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples from Austin, Texas on November 4, 2015, some three hours after they announced that their companies were joining forces, Khosrowshahi said Expedia had been trying to build a competitor to HomeAway for years but was “insanely jealous” of HomeAway’s supply, including “the businesses Brian was bringing under HomeAway’s umbrella,” and was “pretty frustrated at the speed and the execution of the HomeAway team.”
“So I’m making up for that mistake now,” Khosrowshahi said.
In other words, by acquiring HomeAway, Expedia is trying to regain momentum in vacation rentals after letting TripAdvisor get away with Flipkey, with all of its vacation rental supply, in the fold.
Khosrowshahi on the Convergence of Everything
TripAdvisor, which grew up as a user-review site, is now processing hotel bookings, and hotel sites are publishing TripAdvisor reviews. Vacation rental sites are now offering apartment bookings, and apartment rental sites are branching out into vacation rentals.
Expedia’s Khosrowshahi addressed this topic of the blending of everything in travel on October 29 during the company’s third quarter earnings call, saying:
“I think that in this industry you are getting various players and various experiences roll into each other in a way … that has changed and you are not going to have … these clear delineations between experiences the way that you had.”
Khosrowshahi pointed to user reviews as an example, noting that they used to be “only in TripAdvisor’s baliwick” but user reviews are “something that is very big on our site now,” and they improve booking conversion.
TripAdvisor is “more involved in the booking path,” Khosrowshahi said. “You have seen us and various players test with meta-like product on the OTA (online travel agency) path. So I think a lot of these experiences are getting melded together.”
Expedia CEO Gets Candid on TripAdvisor-Booking.com Partnership
In an interview with Skift at the Phocuswright Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on November 19, Expedia’s Khosrowshahi said the branding that partners get as part of the booking flow in TripAdvisor Instant Booking “is more partner-friendly [than when it was when introduced] and we will look at the channel when it becomes available to us. At this point there is an exclusivity period for Booking.com from what we understand.”
In other words, Expedia can’t become a TripAdvisor partner at this moment even if it wanted to. TripAdvisor and the Priceline Group had been tight-lipped about their Instant Booking partnership and the exclusive nature of it hadn’t been public until Khosrowshahi told Skift.
When Skift broke the story about the exclusive nature of the TripAdvisor-Priceline Group partnership, Expedia’s stock price dipped for a few hours before recovering.
HomeAway CEO Says This Stuff is Hard
“I think the barriers to this [vacation rental] business are much bigger than what people typically assume,” Sharples told attendees at the Goldman Sachs Lodging, Gaming, Restaurant and Leisure Conference in New York City June 1.
Booking.com in the last several years has been focused on adding vacation rentals through property management companies, which is only about 40 percent of the market, Sharples said, and only recently has ramped up efforts to attract inventory from individual owners.
TripAdvisor tried to go after rentals by owners but gave up, Sharples said.
He described generating listings from property management companies as the “low-hanging fruit.”
Attracting a huge amount of rentals by owners can’t be done merely through a targeted sales force or technology tools, Sharples said.
He said it takes time, and HomeAway acquired many businesses to build its network.
“It’s a different business,” Sharples said, referring to rentals by owner. “It is more difficult.”
“I don’t really see anybody being able to do it overnight,” he added.
TripAdvisor Didn’t See Ample Results From TV Ads
After running TV campaigns for the past couple of years, TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer on November 6 explained why the company decided to cease TV advertising for 2016:
“TV does a great job growing awareness, so we see how it worked for so many other companies, but the companies have tended to be at a different awareness stage, at different growth stage and so we went forward with TV knowing that it wasn’t to move our awareness numbers, but to educate folks on that one could now book on TripAdvisor,” Kaufer said. “We did the surveys on the TV and certainly the book message stood out, but it was harder to see the behavior change on TripAdvisor. We saw more traffic. We made more money, but it was softer to draw the conclusion that it got people to actually complete a transaction to book on TripAdvisor.”
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