Analysts are divided about whether TripAdvisor is
de-emphasizing its Instant Booking initiative, and while the company asserts
that Instant Booking remains supported and available, it also acknowledged
recently that growth has slowed.
TripAdvisor launched Instant Booking in June 2014 and has
since added inventory from multiple hotel and OTA partners.
Perry Gold, an analyst with the MoffettNathanson research
firm, said the company has faced issues in recent years in pivoting to Instant
"They've been executing on this plan, or trying to
execute on this plan, for three years or so," Gold said. "And then
last quarter, all of a sudden, they abruptly gave up on it. I think, basically,
the conversion rates were just not what they needed to be."
Gold said TripAdvisor "very aggressively"
de-emphasized Instant Booking in the last quarter, first on the desktop, then
on mobile, only offering the Instant Booking option to customers in "very
specific" cases, such as if they had previously used Instant Booking.
Douglas Quinby, senior vice president of research with
Phocuswright, said that TripAdvisor has been "signaling this awhile --
de-emphasizing Instant Booking and refocusing on metasearch. I think the
challenge is conversion, convincing customers that [TripAdvisor] is a booking
site, not a review site. ... The key question is: How best can they monetize
their enormous user base as the marketplace migrates to mobile?"
Brian Hoyt, TripAdvisor's senior director of corporate
communications, said Instant Booking continues to be an option for users, but
it will likely appear more prominently for users who have already demonstrated
a propensity for using the service.
"We continue to be focused on helping the consumer book
the right hotel for them, and should they choose to use our Instant Booking
channel, it is available," he said.
Hoyt pointed to TripAdvisor's recent redesign, which was
also highlighted in its second-quarter financial report released last week. One
of the site's features takes into consideration a user's personal preferences,
including their propensity to use Instant Booking.
Gold, however, asserted that the company is actually
de-emphasizing Instant Booking.
"I think there is a public spin and a what's-actually-happening
story going on here," he said. "[Instant Booking] wasn't generating
the monetization results they needed fast enough, and so they reversed course
quickly. Changing something under the guise of a 'better customer experience'
can be used as the cover story for a lot of internal mistakes."
But analyst Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere
Research, disagreed, saying he did not believe Instant Booking is being
"I've spoken with TripAdvisor, but more importantly I've
been talking with hotels, and hotels have been discussing Instant Booking --
not only TripAdvisor, but some other metasearch organizations, as well -- and
there's no indication in any of the conversations that I've had that TripAdvisor
is backing off of Instant Booking," he said.
According to Harteveldt, hotels feel that Instant Booking is
a "compelling distribution choice," and "it's a good value for
the overall compensation they have to pay TripAdvisor." It also provides
them with information about the guest, including contact details.
"From TripAdvisor's standpoint, they're a commerce
company, so for them it's all about how do they maximize conversion,"
Harteveldt said. "For some people, it will be via metasearch. For other
consumers, it will be through Instant Booking. I know that they've done some
refinement to the website, modified the display and everything a little bit,
but Instant Booking is alive and well at TripAdvisor."
The company's second-quarter earnings report revealed that
TripAdvisor is still realizing revenue from Instant Booking, albeit at a slower
The company reported that its TripAdvisor-branded,
click-based transaction revenue grew 6% in the second quarter, indicating that
growth had decelerated from the first quarter. That deceleration, the company
said, was largely due to more hotel shoppers than expected shifting to
less-monetizing mobile platforms. In addition, the company said it was using
marketing dollars originally pegged for online marketing to return to
television advertising and had conducted product testing in the spring.