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Kayak will include players of the collaborative economy

Interview of J-L Saez, Director of KAYAK France, Spain, and Austria


The figures from the Fevad announcing a draw back of e-tourism in France in 2014 do not seem to worry Kayak. The flight comparator only knows growth. The website, that records 1.3 billion requests, meaning 100 million searches monthly, won’t give away its “magical formula”. But for the company’s 10 year anniversary, John-Lee Saez, Europe’s Director, tells us about the projects and developments of the comparator of the American Priceline (Booking.)



“The mobile drives the web,” explains John-Lee Saez, Director of Kayak for France, Spain, and Austria.  ©Kayak
“The mobile drives the web,” explains John-Lee Saez, Director of Kayak for France, Spain, and Austria. ©Kayak
i-tourisme: First of all, can you remind us what Kayak is made of today?

John-Lee Saez: « Kayak has over 15 websites in the world. We exist in 30 counties, and we’re translated in 17 languages.

Our offer has partnerships with 500,000 hotels, 550 airline companies, 130 travel agencies, 36,000 car rental locations.

It also accounts for 2.8 million stays, 370 tour-operators. The package option arrived later, in 2013.

Our first intention is to multiply collaborations with travel operators.”

i-tourisme: You launched Whisky one year ago. Can you tell us more?

JLS: “Whisky is a simplified reservation process. We keep the client within Kayak’s ecosystem. We control the trajectory of the reservation that we have largely optimized.

Our partners were a bit doubtful at first, because the client stays within Kayak’s interface. But they’re seeing the results: the conversion rates have doubled in some cases.

And we went from 9 minutes to 3 to make a reservation.

To have access to this tool, one simply needs an API for the payment solution.”

“We make the client’s trajectory easier”

i-tourisme: And about clients’ data, do you have access to it?

JLS: “We have the same level of information as online travel agencies.

We know the last and first name, the email address of the traveler who reserved a plane ticket through a travel agency. These data are not yet used in Europe.

Other companies are more agressives than us. We don’t have a newsletter for instance.

A strategy concerning data is launched in the United States since 2014 at Kayak. But we’re staying careful with e-marketing.

On our website, the user has the control, he can choose to not display ads. It is within the brand’s DNA: the founders didn’t want the website to be polluted with banners.”

i-tourisme: You keep the client longer in your environment, up until the reservation. Are you getting closer to what an online travel agency does?

JLS: “We’re getting closer in the extent that we’re controlling the purchase trajectory but we’re not responsible for the booking.

We just make the client’s trajectory easier. But we don’t make that step.”

“Handling movements from A to Z”

i-tourisme: Fabrice Dadriot, head of La Bourse des Vols, sounded annoyed, in the press, concerning “the lack of transparency of comparators.” What do you have to say to that?

JLS: “We work with him, he is on Kayak. He’s talking about a small section of the offer.

Two companies, American Airlines and United Airlines, forbid us to redistribute their offers through third sites, like those of the OTAs.

But our objective is for the user to have the largest choice possible, we want to work with all travel players. We have connectivity to GDS, we work directly with companies.

We respect the demands of everyone. We operate legally and in full transparency.

In the United States, there are not as many problems because there are fewer OTAs than in Europe.”

i-tourisme: Are you thinking of other partnerships in 2015 to enrich your offer?

JLS: “Our slogan has changed: it went from “search, reserve” to “manage, organize.” The mission has completely changed.

Today, the goal is to manage a trip from A to Z.

In doing so, we’re going to integrate the new players of the collaborative economy: taxis, buses, but also restaurants - we have just bought out Opentable -, and activities…

We want to be vacations’ companion. We’re also looking at trains.”

The conversion rate on mobile: +70% in one year.

i-tourisme: Your application was launched in 2009. Where is your mobile strategy at?

JLS: “15% of the traffic comes from the mobile and that can increase to 50%.

The application was downloaded 35 million times. We have made it stronger in functionalities that existed on the website.

It’s a true travel companion. My Trips is a digital travel diary.

The conversion rate to mobile has increased by 70% in one year, especially thanks to Whisky. The client life expectancy is 30 seconds on mobile.

People are less careful of prices. There’s less comparison; they want something simple.

Today, what we learn from the mobile is transposed to the web. The mobile drives the web. No more desktop.”

The external growth strategy of Kayak

2005: Creation of Kayak in the United States.

2007: Kayak’s first buyout is Side Step for more than 160 million dollars.
On this date, the website launches on the English, French, Italian, and Spanish markets.

2010: To develop in Europe, the comparator is betting on two acquisitions. The first is that of the German leader of online travel, Swoodoo.

2011: Then the travel website Checkfelix in Austria in 2011.

2012: The editor of the comparators of tourism services made the choice of entering in the stock market and raised 100 million dollars.

2013: Priceline (that owns booking.com), buys out the flight and hotel price comparator website for 1.8 billion dollars.

It also bought out for 2.5 billion Opentable - an unmissable website for an American wishing to reserve a restaurant online.

Kayak employed 14 people in 2005. Today, 300 people of 30 different nationalities work there. 70% of the team focuses on developing the technology.

Written by Mathilde Khlat translated by Joséphine Foucher the 23/02/2015
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