Technology

Phocuswright 2018: Metasearch not dead, says KAYAK’s Hafner 

Posted by Lee Hayhurst on
Phocuswright 2018: Metasearch not dead, says KAYAK’s Hafner 

The metasearch model in travel is far from dead, according to the founder of Booking Holdings’ owned KAYAK.

Speaking at the annual Phocuswright conference in Los Angeles this week Steve Hafner said consolidation means there will be fewer players.

But he said there will always be a role for sites that allow travellers to shop and compare choices.

“I do not think meta is dead, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “It’s all about pace and how you drive your company’s growth.

“At KAYAK we have always been a believer that size and profitable growth is the way to go long term.”

Hafner said some of KAYAK’s competitors like Trivago and TripAdvisor have been more aggressive in marketing.

But he said that now they have stopped “over-investing” in marketing they have become more profitable.

Asked about the potential threat from Google’s price comparison products, Hafner was dismissive of the impact the dominant search engine.

“We started our company in 2004, Google existed back then. What we have done is stay a couple of steps ahead.

“And we have invested very heavily in marketing so customers will come directly to us and by-pass Google.

“Google is slow, but once they get their act together they can make a big difference. We still have not suffered because of Google’s growth.”

However, Hafner said one fear he has about Google when “they are going to steal my brand traffic”.

“There’s nothing stopping them putting a search bar on the first link after someone types KAYAK in to Google other than regulatory oversight.”

Hafner said he thought Google is acting with more trepidation, particularly in Europe because of the regulators.

But he said the most likely course of action would that they would be fined “$5 billion here, $10 billion there” because “regulators have to make a buck”.

Hafner added people tend to go to metasearch sites before they go to an OTA and as airlines make comparison shopping more difficult they will continue to.

KAYAK will look to establish a presence in China where “we have a website we just do not have any users”, said Hafner.

He said the firm will look to partner with a local player and that discussions were on going with a few. “That’s the way we are going to play it,” he said.

Hafner was asked for his thoughts on the potential impact of online retail giant Amazon on travel should it choose to wake up to the potential of the sector.

“I would not say they are asleep, they are just working on really cool stuff.

“I always say Amazon should buy Booking Holdings. The challenging is it’s going to cost them $130 billion.

“Everything they have done in travel has failed, not because they don’t have the skills it’s because they have put the JV [joint venture] on it.”

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