Phocuswright: Kayak boss Hafner seeks satisfaction from mobile inspiration

Phocuswright: Kayak boss Hafner seeks satisfaction from mobile inspiration

Kayak founder, Steve Hafner, told this week’s Phocuswright conference in Los Angeles he was still “very dissatisfied” with the services it offers despite the firm being profitable.

However, he promised a very different Kayak will emerge in six months, with mobile as the main focus for developing the quality of the service it offers.

Asked about the $1.8 billion deal that saw the meta-search site brought into the Priceline group in 2012, he said he had not appreciated the complexities of operating at such scale.

“What’s changed most is an appreciation of the scale a big business like Priceline operates at,” said Hafner.“As a start up you do not really appreciate the complexity of operating at scale with millions of customers and all the difficulties that come with that.

“We have grown a lot. We are profitable which I do not think other guys in the space are. I’m still very dissatisfied with the quality of the services we offer.”

Hafner said Kayak has missed a lot of opportunities. He said the site was good in the search phase but not so good when it came to booking.

He said what’s missing from the site is “spirit” and “innovation”. “If you look at Kayak now as a mobile app it’s not inspirational.”

Hafner said competing based on marketing spend in the meta space was a “race to the bottom” and Kayak’s television advertising growth would slow.

He said the focus was on how to make the product better to eliminate the friction points in the research and booking path for travel products.

Mobile experience is the key focus for Kayak, Hafner said inspiration was being drawn from other areas of the web and other apps he likes such as the dating app Tinder.

“Wouldn’t it be great if you did a hotel search on Kayak and just swiped if you didn’t like it. We would then derive from your actions the next hotel to recommend to you.”

Hafner said the key to success was responding to customer intent and serving them the right ads at the right time, across devices and across the web.

“We totally suck at personalisation right now. If you keep looking at Kayak you are going to see a very different experience six months from now.”

Hafner dismissed the significance of the move towards direct bookings from metasearch sites as something “nice to have for some customers”.

He said Kayak was too small to move into the booking process and disintermediate the OTAs.

Kayak now operates in 40 countries, up from 14 at the time of the deal, and now sees around a third of its revenue coming from international markets, up from 15%.

It is targeting Asia with local language websites, but this has not yet been supported by marketing in these markets.

However, Hafner ruled out Kayak becoming big in China, where he said Qunar had the scale to make metasearch work.

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