This is the problem with being a public company like TripAdvisor — the scrutiny is intense.
TripAdvisor basically completed the global rollout in the first quarter of Instant Booking, the feature that enables customers to book hotels without leaving the company’s sites and apps, and the results were ugly.
TripAdvisor’s revenue per hotel shopper fell 24 percent year over year in the first quarter, intensifying after a 12 percent decline in the fourth quarter. The reasons are largely a dilution in monetization because of the rollout of Instant Booking, the transition toward mobile, and the recognition of a greater portion of revenue at the time of stay instead of earlier when users clicked on a metasearch link.
TripAdvisor officials caution that this is no major cause for concern and that these numbers have been consistent with its internal game plan. As they labor to get Instant Booking monetization on par with prior performance when TripAdvisor’s hotel shopping was mostly metasearch (making money off leads sent to online travel agencies and hotels) officials claim that the Instant Booking’s payoff will begin to assert itself in the second half of 2016 and into 2017.
TripAdvisor is currently in Instant Booking’s phase 3, said CEO Stephen Kaufer, namely, optimizing the booking experience for users,
“Phase four is about establishing our brand as a preferred booking site — getting users back to our site to book time and time again,” Kaufer said in prepared remarks about the first quarter. “In doing so, we believe this seamless user experience will drive more value for partners and will increase monetization on our platform.”
There is considerable skepticism among investors on whether TripAdvisor will succeed as a booking site and one competitor, Kayak co-founder and CEO Steve Hafner, predicts that TripAdvisor Instant Booking will fail and the company will eventually reverse its plans.
Kayak was the first metasearch site to experiment with booking as a supplement to providing leads to partners and it never got traction. Hafner said recently it would be an uphill battle to get users accustomed to viewing TripAdvisor as a booking site.
TripAdvisor’s rollout of Instant Booking is much different and more pervasive than Kayak’s was. TripAdvisor, for example, has the majority of the globe’s major hotel chains as Instant Booking partners, as well as the online travel agency Booking.com. In contrast to Kayak’s previous rollout, TripAdvisor has an Instant Booking option on the vast majority of its listings, and Piper Jaffray’s Michael Olson expects Expedia to become a TripAdvisor Instant Booking partner later this year.
Meanwhile, TripAdvisor continues to labor to transform its business into a booking site — under the glare of all-too-often impatient pundits and investors.
TripAdvisor CFO Ernst Teunissen said during its first quarter earnings call that the company is seeing improved monetization of Instant Booking in the U.S., the first market to see implementation, as the company adds hotel inventory and improves the content for those hotel listings.
“We have continued to see improvements in our ability to improve that monetization in the U.S.,” Teunissen said.
He said first-time bookers on TripAdvisor are showing strong repeat rates and they convert better than repeat metasearch users.
The rollout is “less good” outside the U.S. and the gap is larger between metasearch and Instant Booking performance because it is newer outside the U.S., he said.
Officials said they outlined in February the trajectory of the performance of Instant Booking and it is working out largely as planned.