TripAdvisor has been accused of neglecting its Viator tour and activity booking business by the man who created it in 1995.
Rod Cuthbert, Viator's founder, then CEO and latterly chairman until 2010, says TripAdvisor's stewardship of the business - via a $200 million deal in 2014 - is taking the incorrect route and not capitalizing on the strength of the original brand.
He says that TripAdvisor is "killing development on the [Viator] app" and forcing consumers to buy through the mothership's own product, a move that is "really counter-intuitive, and frankly wrong-headed".
There is also the termination of partnerships, such as one with ARC, which acts as an affiliate provider for large numbers of agents that book through Viator, he claims.
This strategy "just seems to be driven by a desire to tear things down rather than build things up", he argues.
Despite the end of some individual agreements, TripAdvisor has a history of working with partners and has recently launched a dedicated Travel Agent Platform to work with intermediaries that want to make bookings on the Viator service.
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For its part, TripAdvisor says in a statement that it's been a "record-breaking year for Viator and TripAdvisor Attractions" and the company "couldn't be happier with the business's performance".
We have an "incredible opportunity ahead", explains Ben Drew, vice president of business development at TripAdvisor.
Cuthbert, who confirms he has a "modest" amount of stock in TripAdvisor, acknowledges the "star performer" role of Viator in recent results and how the acquisition was a smart move by TripAdvisor in 2014.
But, unlike other acquisitions such as Jetsetter, Flipkey and Virtual Tourist, which were acquired and absorbed into the main business or scaled backed due to fairly low profiles in the marketplace, Viator should be "supported and celebrated", rather than rolled into TripAdvisor.
Cuthbert says: "As a founder you naturally want to see your baby grow up and prosper, and you certainly want to see the brand live on."
"I would never have guessed that TripAdvisor would go down the path they're on; I'm really surprised by it.
"I'm definitely not convinced that consumers see TripAdvisor, the leading hotel reviews site, as a better place to book tours and activities than Viator, which has been the acknowledged leader in that sector since the late 90's.
He argues that the Priceline Group model, with its acquisitions of Kayak or Booking.com, which are then let soar to "greater heights", would be better suited to Viator than the current strategy.
I think Steve Kaufer should consider Priceline Group's model - support and celebrate the great brands you acquire, rather than trying to roll everything into TripAdvisor. It's certainly not too late.
Responding to Cuthbert's criticism, Drew says the attractions business is TripAdvisor’s fastest-growing and the industry leader in this category.
He adds: "We are where we are because we integrated two synergistic brands: TripAdvisor, with its unparalleled demand asset of 455 million travelers, and Viator, with its unparalleled supply asset of 70,000+ bookable experiences."
"We spent 2017 deepening this integration, and we’re now matching more travelers with more experiences – and therefore delivering more bookings to our suppliers – than ever before."
Still, Viator's founder argues that TripAdvisor's model is: "Hey, it's great what you've done so far, but we want to make this really big and you guys need to step aside and let us take over. And by the way, our brand is better than your brand, so..."
Drew says both Viator and TripAdvisor "have been integral to our 2017 results", with each an important part of the strategy moving forward, adding: "We’ll continue to invest heavily in both."
Cuthbert concludes: "I'm disappointed with the way things are headed and hope Steve [CEO Kaufer] and his team will take another look at the strategy with Viator.
"It's a great brand, and it's certainly a more relevant brand with which to build a billion dollar tours and activities business, which is what Steve has talked about."