TripAdvisor quietly acquires Smarter Travel, SeatGuru.com

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Expedia Inc.'s TripAdvisor acquired deal-publisher and travel search company Smarter Travel Media for an undisclosed sum, TravelWeekly.com has learned.

And, in a separate deal around the same timeframe in mid-February, TripAdvisor also acquired SeatGuru.com, a Seattle company that specializes in providing information for road warriors about 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 headquarters in Needham, Mass.

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

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

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

There also has been no integration yet with SeatGuru, which, together with MyBusinessTravel.com, will give Expedia and TripAdvisor an opening to pursue the frequent flyer and unmanaged business travel niche.

The purchase of Smarter Travel likely will lead to changes in TripAdvisors' core advertising practices, which revolve around ads from online agencies and suppliers -- primarily hotels -- that are tied to user-generated reviews. When SmarterTravel 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 searches. With the latter search methodology, consumers input their travel dates and then choose among individual search engines from companies like Orbitz, Expedia, Kayak, SideStep, Travelocity, Hotwire, Priceline or CheapTickets to complete their research or to book travel.

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

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

He also noted that the acquisition of SeatGuru.com would better enable Expedia Inc. units to target unmanaged business travelers.

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

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