Why did Greg Slyngstad, Simon Breakwell, Rich Barton and the rest of the ex-Expedia gang at NewTravelCo
decide to acquire hotel-review site TravelPost
from Kayak and what did the startup actually get?
The question is important because Kayak board member -- and now NewTravelCo President -- Slyngstad's idea for a TravelPost transaction
is said to be one of the wheels that got the NewTravelCo effort in motion and may be at the core of its self-appointed mission.
But, some statistics in PhoCuswright's new report, Social Media in Travel: Traffic & Activity
, tend to support a conclusion that TravelPost may have lost a little mojo since Kayak picked up TravelPost as part of Kayak's acquisition of SideStep in late 2007.
Of the Top 10 hotel review websites in terms of average monthly unique visitors in 2009, TravelPost ranks 7th, according to PhoCusWright
Here's the ranking:
Rounding out the pack, boo
didn't hit 50,000 average monthly unique visitors in any month last year, according to the report.
The PhoCusWright report indicates that online travel agencies, buoyed by their reductions in booking fees, collected almost three times more new hotel reviews in 2009 than did hotel-review websites, such as TripAdvisor and iGoUgo.
In fact, TravelPost posted fewer new hotel reviews in 2009 than it did in 2008, according to the PhoCusWright report.
So, what kind of asset, in TravelPost, did NewTravelCo acquire?
Or, as one pundit puts it, perhaps "the Emperor has no clothes."
On the traffic question, Kayak CEO Steve Hafner cites a deliberate strategy.
"We're sending fewer people down the TravelPost path from Sidestep and Kayak, choosing instead to show more snippets from TravelPost within our main results," Hafner says.
TravelPost, too, appears to be focusing on aggregating reviews rather than being single-minded about soliciting new ones.
However, the fewer number of new reviews on TravelPost also could have something to do with TravelPost's changed relationship withMarket Metrix, which provides various feedback solutions for the hospitality industry.
TravelPost had an exclusive deal with Market Metrix before Kayak's acquisition of SideStep, which owned TravelPost. Market Metrix supplied consumer reviews to TravelPost, which used them extensively to build up its supply of new reviews.
But Kayak no longer works with Market Metrix in part, Hafner says, because Kayak has a policy of not paying for content.
But, if TravelPost has seen its unique visitors and new-review numbers fall, it still is a solid SEO asset for NewTravelCo as -- if the buzz is true -- the startup attempts to take on travel review-site leader TripAdvisor in the trip-planning/media arena.
Just look at the following results from a Google search of "hotel reviews."
The top organic search result is for TripAdvisor -- and the second is for TravelPost. On the first page of results, the top two organic results were followed by hotels.com, Fodor's, VirtualTourist, Oyster, Frommer's, Shermans Travel, HotelMarketing.com, MyTravelGuide.com and the Telegraph newspaper.
iGoUgo, VirtualTourist and UpTake, all of which trample TravelPost in terms of monthly unique visitors, don't even appear on the first page of Google search results for "hotel reviews," highlighting TravelPost's relative SEO luster.
Another feather in its cap is TravelPost's longevity.
Google's search algorithms discriminate on the basis of age -- age matters -- and TravelPost can trace its roots to 2003.
TravelPost also has a treasure trove of back links -- almost 1.5 million.
So, if Kayak handed over TravelPost to NewTravelCo in exchange for some equity in the startup, then Kayak indeed appears to have sold NewTravelCo "a beautiful little SEO asset," as one entrepreneur called it.
An official at one of Kayak's competitors concurred, characterizing TravelPost's SEO worth as "fabulous."
So, TravelPost appears to be the foundation for NewTravelCo's quest to take on TripAdvisor and rewrite the hotel shopping and trip-planning experience.
However, it is difficult to talk about TripAdvisor and NewTravelCo in the same sentence. TripAdvisor is a global company, a growth engine for parent Expedia, and NewTravelCo is a bunch of great resumes -- albeit with $9.8 million in the bank.
So TripAdvisor may have an insurmountable headstart, despite the pioneering efforts of NewTravelCo's founders when they launched Expedia more than a decade ago.
But, that hasn't stopped NewTravelco from trying to assemble an all-star team.
And, they have in TravelPost a substantive SEO asset in hand.