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Less than two years after Kayak CEO Steve Hafner took on the additional role of heading dining platform OpenTable, the company has appointed Debby Soo as OpenTable CEO.
Soo, who most recently was Kayak’s chief commercial officer, serving in that role for the past three years, will still report to Hafner, who retains overall responsibility for the unit. The appointment took place this month without any fanfare.
Both OpenTable and Kayak are part of parent company Booking Holdings.
Soo takes over during a tumultuous time for the restaurant industry globally because of the coronavirus pandemic. She told CNBC Wednesday that a previous estimate that Hafner made a few months ago that perhaps 25 percent of establishments would close permanently might turn out to be too conservative. [See the full interview embedded below.]
“We think for dining to really return back to pre-Covid levels, all the way back, a vaccine will definitely be needed,” Soo said. “However, we do see dining demand start to pop up.
Hafner said the current environment required a strategy change at OpenTable and Kayak.
“Travel and dining are facing enormous challenges at the moment — and they’re different,” Hafner told Skift. “So after careful consideration, we decided to form dedicated go-to-market teams on each vertical.”
The executive shuffle is a reversal from the strategy carried out two years ago, when then-OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles stepped down, and Hafner took on her duties in addition to running Kayak.
With the changes this month, OpenTable and travel metasearch firm Kayak will each have their own CEOs, chief marketing officers, and chief technology officers, Hafner said.
“OpenTable merits a full-time CEO and Debby’s just the ticket,” Hafner said, adding that he’ll still be playing close attention to the dining-reservations business.
Soo has worked at Kayak for nearly 11 years and, according to Bloomberg, she started there as an intern. In addition to serving as chief commercial officer, her previous roles at Kayak included being senior vice president of business development, and vice president Asia Pacific.
Of Booking Holdings’ six major sub-brands, including Booking.com, Kayak, Priceline, Agoda, Rentalcars.com, and OpenTable, Soo is the only woman who serves as CEO.
Debbie Soo, new OpenTable CEO, on CNBC August 12, 2020: