Tripadvisor CEO Steve Kaufer may be underestimating the threat competitors pose to its tours and activities business, a segment the company may see as its largest opportunity. But it's true that Airbnb is only going after a small slice of that market for now, and Amazon's intentions are unclear.
Although competitors have taken an ax to Tripadvisor’s listings lead in tours and activities over the last couple of years, CEO Steve Kaufer still thinks his company’s position is still considerably advantageous.
Asked about competition from Airbnb Experiences and potentially from Amazon, which did a soft launch of virtual tours, Kaufer said: “Ya, it’s not all that competitive in the companies you named so far. Amazon, great. Brings more excitement into virtual tours. That’s wonderful. It lifts all boats. Airbnb bespoke tours — some really cool stuff there — but not really much of an overlap with us or what some of our competitors provide.”
In the closing interview for Skift Forum Asia, which took place Thursday, Kaufer argued that Tripadvisor and its Viator brand are in the “pole position” because of the company’s vast content and international reach in tours and activities.
In A Deep Dive Into Tripadvisor 2020, published last month, Skift Research found that two years ago Viator had four times the listings than that of its closest rival at the time, GetYourGuide, in the top 100 global destinations, but now has only a 25 percent listings’ lead over second place Expedia.
“It probably doesn’t matter whether we have 300,000 or 600,000 things — we have all the things that you might want to do,” Kaufer said. “Now our opportunity is you can buy them from us. They are safe. They are blessed. They are reviewed. You know what you are going to get.”
When Tripadvisor acquired Viator for $200 million in 2014, it began a tours and activities listings’ land grab, but lately it is putting more emphasis into quality, with some saying the company is trying to have it both ways.
Coexistence With Klook
On competition with tours and activities platform Klook in Asia, Kaufer said for now there is “coexistence” because Klook’s customers are mostly based in the region, while Tripadvisors’ are from outside. “If an attraction or tour operator in Japan or Korea or Singapore, Australia or anywhere in Asia, wants to appeal to the audience that is already on Tripadvisor or Viator, they should be working with us, and they are.”
But he added that tour operators should probably work with both Tripadvisor/Viator and Klook for maximum benefit.
Kaufer said Viator portions itself as a standalone answer for customers who are merely looking for something to do while Tripadvisor is there to offer attractions as a component of someone’s entire trip.
Given all the venture capital funding that has poured into the sector, Kaufer was not arguing that tours and activities isn’t competitive.
“So yes, it’s a very competitive market because it’s a really big market,” he said. “It’s the last really big one that hasn’t gone completely online. We love the position we are in to help lead that revolution.”
Other takeaways from the Kaufer interview:
Tripadvisor Wants the Entire Trip
Kaufer kept returning to the theme that Tripadvisor is the place to book an entire, special trip, especially if it’s international, but if people are just looking to merely take a packaged tour to the United States or to book a hotel on its own, perhaps they should book elsewhere.
Trip.com Group Isn’t Likely to Snooker Tripadvisor
Unlike AirAsia, which decided during a joint venture with Expedia Group, that the airline could build an online travel agency itself, Kaufer said it’s unlikely that Trip.com Group would like to similarly take advantage in its joint venture with Tripadvisor.
“Again, it’s a good, logical JV because we bring things to the table that they (Trip.com Group) don’t have, won’t have access to, and (it’s) unlikely would want to build up,” said Kaufer. “And they bring a tremendous amount of technology and booking capabilities, and app experience with the Chinese consumer in mind. And that is something we would learn.”
Redirecting Consumer Behavior Online Is Tough
Tripadvisor has had trouble over the years, despite brand marketing campaigns, in trying to convince travelers that it was a hotel booking site, when travelers came for reviews.
Kaufer conceded that encouraging consumer behavior to change is a tough endeavor.
“It’s not that easy,” Kaufer said. “The advice I give to everyone at Tripadvisor, the advice I would give to AirAsia and anyone else who asks, is really to direct your efforts — and it sounds so obviously cliché — to what you think your customer on your site at that point in time wants.”
If AirAsia site visitors arrive looking for a flight deal, it would be easier to entice them to buy something tangential to travel, such as a car rental, rather than financial services, he said.
“But it could also be something that would make that trip extra special,” Kaufer said. “Ease your way into that at the risk of taking someone off path for why they are on your site in the first place.”
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Photo credit: Tripadvisor CEO Steve Kaufer has repositioned the company as a place to book your entire trip, not just a hotel room or a domestic weekend getaway. Tripadvisor