Skift Take

Viator was a potential spinoff candidate in 2021. But with a potential sale of Tripadvisor, all bets are off for now.

It’s been two months since Liberty Tripadvisor announced it was exploring a potential sale of itself and Tripadvisor, which it controls. Tripadvisor, in turn, formed an independent committee to vet any deals.

Both companies in the interim have been hush-hush about any deal developments, though Bloomberg reported that private equity firm Apollo Global Management expressed interest.

Now there’s a new twist involving Viator, Tripadvisor’s tours and activities unit and its hottest brand: Ben Drew, Viator’s president, said he’d be leaving next week.

Viator just broke even last year, but revenue grew 49%, much faster than anything else in Tripadvisor’s portfolio.

The impact of the departure is unclear: Drew said he was leaving for a new position outside of the travel industry.

But one travel industry C-suite executive with experience in mergers and acquisitions said it would make a potential buyer of Tripadvisor take an even closer look at Viator’s prospects, and more heavily scrutinize its leadership ranks.

Tripadvisor didn’t respond to a request for comment about who would replace Drew at Viator or the timing on naming a successor.

Viator’s Trajectory

In November 2021, Tripadvisor floated the idea of spinning off Viator and perhaps dining reservation platform TheFork to unlock shareholder value.

By July 2022, Tripadvisor had a new CEO, Matt Goldberg, and the financial markets had turned. Investors grew skittish about fast-growing companies that weren’t profitable.

Goldberg began downplaying the idea of a Viator spinoff as a focus, though he never ruled it out.

“Matt was brought in and he took maybe six to nine months formulating his strategy, and talk of the spinoff went quiet,” said one Tripadvisor investor. “Matt comes in and maybe he has different ideas about how he manages their experiences strategy.”

Another factor is there has been long-standing tension about Tripadvisor’s experiences strategy and whether Tripadvisor should invest in the Tripadvisor brand to sell tours and activities or whether the Viator brand should be the focus.

Tripadvisor has a long history of favoring its own brand over other brands it acquired. That was true when it bought FlipKey in 2008 for vacation rentals, and there has been a push and pull involving Viator versus Tripadvisor over the issue for many years, as well.

“I think they are trying to play both sides and manage some sort of compromise,” the investor said.

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Tags: apollo, experiences, mergers and acquisitions, online travel newsletter, private equity, tours and activities, tripadvisor, viator

Photo credit: As part of a Tripadvisor video about Mexico, a dad is shown eating food. Source: Tripadvisor/YouTube Tripadvisor/YouTube

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