TripAdvisor president and chief executive Steve Kaufer admitted there was initial push back from hotels about Instant Book because he did a “phenomenally terrible” job explaining it.
Speaking at this week’s Phocuswright Europe conference in Dublin, Kaufer said response about something it thought was “hotel-friendly” was “stand-offish”.
“I just did a phenomenally terrible job explaining what we were trying to do,” he added.
“There was a lot of tension between OTAs and hotel and hotels thought we were just going to become one of them.
“That was a bad thing in their eye and not something that they wanted to help. We said we have a lot of travellers and a lot are saying to us explicitly that they want to book with the hotel direct.
“But that message did not come across,” Kaufer added, saying hotels now appreciate Instant Book as another distribution channel.
Kaufer said TripAdvisor was not looking to bind hotels in long-term contracts with Instant Book to lock in partners and they were free to just use its meta model if it does not work for them.
“We look to stay in business for a really long time in the hotel industry. We want these folks to really appreciate our role in the ecosystem and most of them do today.”
Instant Book was rolled out in Europe in the first quarter of this year having initially been launched in the US.
Kaufer said the longer the facility is live the more data TripAdvisor has collected and the better it works. He said the clock has now starting ticking in Europe as Instant Book changes user behaviour.
Asked about recent attempts by hotel brands to persuade consumers to book direct, in particular a hard-hitting campaign by Hilton, Kaufer said:
“It’s a long journey for the chains to persuade the leisure travellers to always book direct with them.
“Many leisure travellers want to start on a website that features all the potential properties in a city. That’s going to be an OTA or TripAdvisor.”
Kaufer said hotels need to “put their best foot forward” on all the sites that customers use when looking for a hotel, and that includes on price.
“OTAs are growing at a phenomenal rate, faster than supplier direct websites. That’s a cause for concern for the chains. They do need to build more loyalty from consumers.
“If you look at Instant Book we are differentiated from OTAs, we are passing all booking-related information directly to the hotel and the hotel is serving that guest from the moment of booking.
“That allows the hotel to form that great relationship. That’s a chance for the hotel to win that repeat business.”
Kaufer was asked about TripAdvisor’s ambitions in the tours and activities sector, having bought Viator in 2014.
He said the question around how it makes this its next $1bn business was how to plug together all the fragmented supply.
“No one else has been able to bring the demand side of the business into the picture,” he said.
“If you just have an attraction tour company it’s phenomenally expensive to buy the traffic that’s going to convert because people will want to buy when they get to the destination.
“That leakage makes it phenomenally hard to build that ecosystem. TripAdvisor already has that demand.
“We combine the best supply with demand and mobile enable it because that’s the way purchases are going.”
TripAdvisor has started to roll out Instant Book for activities, Kaufer saying this was a major step forward but just part of a “multi-year journey”.
“We want to be the marketplace where you can book any activity you are going to do in the market,” he said.