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There’s been speculation over the years about online travel companies getting into the hotel business, and Kayak CEO Steve Hafner teased as much during an interview on Thursday.
Hafner, who heads Booking Holdings brands Kayak and OpenTable, dropped the hint during a pre-recorded interview for Travel’s Path Forward: Online Travel, when discussing the company’s product roadmap during the Covid-19 hiatus.
Without providing much detail, Hafner teased an announcement about Kayak getting into the hotel business in some form beyond its traditional hotel referral and booking services.
“Soon we are going to announce our first forays into the hotel business,” Hafner said.
Asked whether we would see Kayak-branded hotels, Hafner said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you did. Put it that way.”
He added another tidbit when discussing OpenTable and loyalty programs.
Later in the interview, Hafner discussed the integration of OpenTable’s dining services with sister company Booking.com, and he said OpenTable’s success would hinge on getting more restaurants to sign up and locals to make reservations, and not any such technology integrations.
He added that the online travel space has not crushed the loyalty conundrum, although he pointed to Expedia Group’s Hotels.com Rewards as one of the most effective rewards programs among online travel companies.
Asked tongue in cheek if guests can expect loyalty points from a stay in a Kayak-branded hotel, Hafner said: “You might not get loyalty points, but you might get a welcome beverage in the OpenTable restaurant that’s housed on site.”
It’s hard to gauge how serious Hafner was about Kayak becoming a hotelier of some sort. Certainly, after laying off and furloughing around 400 people in April and rehiring about 50 in the interim, there’s no mass staffing up under way to operate hotels.
Could Kayak launch a budget hotel operation similar to what Oyo has done?
Or more likely would Kayak debut some kind of technology or digitally based concierge service for hotels?
Hafner declined to provide any further details Thursday.
In 2018, Skift mused about online travel company opportunities in the hotel arena: “What if there were less need for hotel owners to rely on hotel management companies like Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Wyndham, Choice, or IHG?
“What if hotel owners just worked directly with online travel agencies, or even Airbnb, instead of paying hefty fees to the big brands or other consortium or marketing groups?”
Kayak could soon answer some of the “what ifs?”