Tripadvisor shakeup gives Viator greater prominence

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Tripadvisor is embarking on a dramatic realignment aimed at helping the company preserve profitability and spur new growth as it deals with competition from Google and others and with evolving preferences from travelers.

Along with product changes aimed at created a more engaging, traveler-centric experience, Tripadvisor confirmed it is also switching to a lowercase “a” in its name as one of many visible signs that will be rolling out in the coming months to signal the brand’s transformation.

The Viator brand, which Tripadvisor acquired for $200 million in 2014, will now operate independent of Tripadvisor Experiences, with its own marketing, product and engineering teams.

In a memo sent to employees after markets closed Thursday, co-founder and CEO Steve Kaufer says this will “give Viator the opportunity to grow its brand and business offerings as a leading Experiences OTA.”

In tandem with this change, Kaufer says Dermot Halpin, who has been president of experiences and vacation rentals, will leave the company but will stay on as an advisor through the first quarter. During that time, Kaufer will lead Viator, and then Ben Drew, who has been vice president of business development and strategy for rentals and attractions, will take over as president.

Viator founder Rod Cuthbert says he’s been concerned about TripAdvisor’s neglect of Viator since the deal went through nearly six years ago, and today’s announcement provides a valuable lesson for brands that make acquisitions.

“This is definitely an ‘I told you so’ moment for me,” Cuthbert says. “Back in 2017, I talked about the mistake I felt Trip was making in shifting emphasis away from Viator, the established leader in tours and activities, to TripAdvisor Experiences. Based on the announcement today, it looks like I got that 100% right.

“I’ve had a bunch of calls from current and ex-Viator people today, and it’d be fair to say there’s a lot of schadenfreude in the air over Dermot’s departure. It turns out, though, based on what I’ve learned, that in the end he was the strongest advocate for increasing the focus and investment in the Viator brand.

“One can only imagine how much more successful this acquisition might have been had Trip recognized that [former CEO] Barrie Seidenberg and her executive team -- Scott McNeely, Kelly Gillease, Ken Frohling -- who all walked within a couple of years, were key to the company’s future, and knew just a little more about how to grow the business than the Trip execs who took over the reins.

“There’s definitely a lesson here for acquirers: If you’re buying a great business, put faith in the people who made it great! Don’t imagine your own team has some special sauce that’ll make it better. The Trip/Viator experience says that definitely isn’t the case.”

Kaufer says Viator is one of five lines of business that exceed $100 million in revenue. The others are hotel B2B solutions, Experiences on TripAdvisor, TheFork and Tripadvisor Restaurants, and media advertising. In his memo, Kaufer says he believes growth in these five areas can “collectively more than offset hotel auction headwinds and will help us return to sustained top-line growth.”

As part of this strategy, more executive changes are underway. Gary Fritz, who has been chief growth officer and president for Asia Pacific, will leave the company in the second quarter. The APAC organization will now report into Lindsay Nelson, who becomes chief experience and brand officer. Under Nelson, Jane Lim will lead activities in APAC. 

Kaufer writes the company is also “centralizing the previously distributed teams across design, user research, CRM, partnerships/business development and communications functions under Lindsay Nelson. In addition to leading brand marketing, CoreX product, membership and loyalty, new ventures (consumer), Lindsay will continue to drive the advertising and media sales organization focused growth outside of Hotel & OTA categories.”

Kanika Soni becomes chief commercial officer and will take on responsibility for Tripadvisor’s B2C product, SEO and performance marketing for rentals, experiences and restaurants. She will also continue to oversee the hotels B2B portfolio and auction and hotels and online travel agency sales organizations.
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Source: PhocusWire

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