TripAdvisor quietly acquires SeatGuru, Smarter Travel Media

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With two relatively small acquisitions, Expedia Inc.'s TripAdvisor will expand into travel search and bolster advertisers' abilities to offer deals and specials to better compete with companies like Travelzoo and SideStep.

TripAdvisor also gains some clout in marketing to unmanaged business travelers who are looking for tips to better use their frequent-flyer miles.

These developments come with TripAdvisor's quiet acquisition in mid-February of deal publisher and travel search company Smarter Travel Media for an undisclosed sum. In a separate purchase around the same time, TripAdvisor acquired SeatGuru.com, a Seattle company that offers information on cabin configurations and airline seats on more than 40 airlines.

TripAdvisor spokesman Brian Payea confirmed the unannounced purchases of both companies.

Smarter Travel Media has about 50 employees and is headquartered in Boston, about 19 miles from TripAdvisor's headquarters in Needham, Mass.

Payea said the acquisition of Smarter Travel Media gives TripAdvisor new capabilities in offering travel search, expert advice and deals.

Smarter Travel Media operates several Web sites, including SmarterTravel.com, Booking Buddy and MyBusinessTravel.com.

There have been no major changes in the operations of TripAdvisor and Smarter Travel Media due to the recent acquisition, said Payea, because there has been no integration between the two companies.

There also has been no integration with SeatGuru. Together with MyBusinessTravel.com, SeatGuru could enhance the appeal of Expedia and TripAdvisor for business travelers.

The purchase of Smarter Travel likely will lead to changes in TripAdvisor's core advertising practices, which revolve around ads from online agencies and suppliers, primarily hotels, that are tied to user-generated reviews.

When Smarter Travel gets integrated, TripAdvisor's advertisers may get expanded reach through deal-oriented newsletters and travel search offerings.

The Smarter Travel companies are heavily involved in deal publishing and facilitated search.

Search methodology enables consumers to input their travel dates and then choose among individual search engines from companies such as Orbitz, Expedia, Kayak, SideStep, Travelocity, Hotwire, Priceline and CheapTickets to complete their research or to book travel.

The Smarter Travel Web sites also offer travel guides, news, advice and other content.

Informed of the acquisitions, Forrester Research analyst Henry Harteveldt said that Expedia's market muscle likely would invigorate Smarter Travel, enabling it to better compete against other travel search engines and deal publishers, including Travelzoo.

He added that the acquisition of Seat-Guru.com would better enable Expedia Inc. units to target unmanaged business travelers.  

Incorporated in 2003, SeatGuru, located in Seattle a few miles from Expedia headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., is an information resource for road warriors about the types of aircraft they fly; good seats and poor seats; and onboard amenities ranging from AC power outlets to Internet access.

Information pages detail airlines' reward programs, lounges and alliances.

To contact reporter Dennis Schaal, send e-mail to [email protected].

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