Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kayak Private Sale: Surely to mean increased cost and complexity for Kayak. A zero percenter no more

Dennis Schaal over at Tnooz broke the story that Kayak is launching a program called Kayak Private Sale. In a post titled "Kayak gets clubby with exclusive hotel deals" he revealed that Kayak is planning on launching exclusive deals. These deals will be negotiated directly with a property and made available for Kayak exclusively. A few days later Dennis had an update in his post "Kayak exclusives to include flights, hotels, vacation packages" including confirmation that these exclusives would extend to flight and packages as well as hotels. Bookings will be at the supplier site based on a click/referral from Kayak.

This is a very interesting step from Kayak - but not for the reasons you first think. In the words of PhoCusWright boss Phillip Wolf one of the hallmarks of Kayak's success was that it was a "zero percenter". That is a site where zero (or near zero) percent of the site content is controlled or produced by the owner. The main disadvantage of being a zero percenter is that you don't control inventory, price or the customer experience. The main benefit of being a zero percenter is the dramatic operational cost advantage you have over an online retailer. No need for a supplier contracting team as a small biz dev team is enough to secure content. No need for a fulfilment team as the supplier/advertiser takes the booking. No need for a customer care team as the supplier/advertiser talks to the customer. This saves millions in costs. This is how you can be one of the biggest travel sites on the planet but with less than a 100 staff (last time I heard).

But (as I said in my comment to Dennis' first post) signing and managing exclusive deals takes time and a team. Call it a revenue management team or a hotel market management/contracting team. Either way it is a group of sales and revenue professionals who need to talk weekly/daily to suppliers. In the OTA world this means local market people - lots of them. Plus if you are going to load exclusive deals you are going to need to talk to consumers when those deals are not what they are supposed to be. This means more people which means higher cost. All of this adds up to a significant operational and cost change for Kayak

I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out. Am I missing something?

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