Skift Take

Two headlines here: TripAdvisor CEO remains adamantly committed to Instant Booking -- and he isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He's still excited about his gig.

There’s no quit in TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer when it comes to transforming the company into one that handles hotel bookings.

Speaking at the Skift Global Forum in Lincoln Center in Manhattan Wednesday, Kaufer said of TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking initiative: “I’m completely convinced we are doing the right thing for the strength of the business” over the long term.

With Instant Booking, travelers book hotels on TripAdvisor without having to navigate to a hotel or online travel agency site to complete the booking. Instead, hotels and online travel agency partners of TripAdvisor pay a commission and handle customer service for guests.

Kaufer acknowledged “we’d be attracting more [short-term] revenue if we didn’t do this transition” from metasearch links only to metasearch and bookings on TripAdvisor as an option.

Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali asked Kaufer about the decline in TripAdvisor’s share price as it labors to transition to Instant Booking, and he characterized the share price as “a short-term grade.”

Of shareholders, he said, “you are investing in company that has a long-term vision. We are going to see that [Instant Booking] through.”

Kaufer said, “We are going to build out a product” that we think would benefit travelers in the long term whether it is Instant Booking, restaurant reservations, or tours and activities.

If shareholders don’t accept TripAdvisor’s vision, they should consider investing elsewhere, Kaufer said, adding that there are plenty of other good companies to attract investors’ attention.

On another issue of interest to TripAdvisor shareholders, Kaufer said he’s still excited about his job as CEO and has no intention of going elsewhere or retiring after more than 15 years at the helm of the company.

“What do I like to do? I like to tackle massive problems,” Kaufer said. “When I get bored with what I do I will look to do something else.”

There’s so much more for TripAdvisor to do in terms of improving the traveler journey, including voice search, making better recommendations and personalization, Kaufer said.

“Whether they like it or not, I’ll be staying on,” Kaufer said, referring to doubters.

Restaurants and Tours and Activities

Kaufer said TripAdvisor saw its initial growth coming from hotel reviews but restaurants “and food in general” became more important to locals and travelers. He said he hasn’t counted but believes that TripAdvisor has more restaurant reviews on the site than any other company.

TripAdvisor acquired restaurant reservations platform La Fourchette (The Fork) in 2014 and made a string of acquisitions of similar platforms in Europe and Australia in the interim. Kaufer said Yelp and Opentable aren’t big in Paris but “we are king.”

He said the company is interested in helping the user find a good meal and restaurant reservations are interesting and a nice business. “The user we are focused on,” Kaufer added, “is the traveler.”

Asked which has been the most transformational of TripAdvisor’s acquisitions in its history, Kaufer said tours and activities platform Viator was a “gem of an acquisition.” TripAdvisor acquired for $200 million in 2014.

He said Viator had both supply and demand and was a well-run business when acquired. TripAdvisor helped Viator tweak its model from a curated selection of tours and activities to a more pervasive one.

Kaufer said TripAdvisor will continue to invest in Viator’s growth, and that will benefit the vast audience of TripAdvisor users.

On the other side of the ledger, TripAdvisor’s 2013 acquisition of Tiny Post, which enabled travelers to make stories and postcards out of their photos, didn’t work out although the team that came on board when TripAdvisor bought Tiny Post helped out in TripAdvisor’s mobile efforts, Kaufer said.

Plenty of Players Can Do Flights

On the issue of whether TripAdvisor should go deeper into the flight-booking sector, Kaufer said “airlines is a tricky space.” He added that there has been a lot of consolidation in the airline industry, many travelers book direct on airline websites and low cost carriers make the space more complex.

TripAdvisor has been adding airline reviews but Kaufer said he doesn’t believe adding flight bookings is mandatory for the company because there are a lot of players that can do flight bookings well.

“We don’t feel it is a must-play,” Kaufer said, referring to flight bookings. “We add value as we can. It is nothing we see as an incredible differentiator.”

$5 Million Commitment to Aiding Refugees

TripAdvisor’s charitable foundation has made a $5 million commitment to assist in combatting the global refugee crisis. As travelers, “we know better” than to support xenophobic movements and to resist supporting migrants in crisis, Kaufer said.

Kaufer said he wouldn’t want to tell his grandkids one day that he knew about the refugee crisis and didn’t do anything about it.

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Tags: hotels, instant booking, restaurants, sgf2016, skift global forum, tours and activities, tripadvisor

Photo credit: TripAdvisor co-founder and CEO Stephen Kaufer tells Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali and the audience at the Skift Global Forum in Manhattan September 28 that he has a lot more work to do in the future at TripAdvisor to improve the traveler journey. Skift

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