On Thursday, March 24th, the Tisch Center of Hospitality hosted its 18th annual Grossinger-Bergman Distinguished Lecturer Series in Travel and Tourism. This year’s keynote speaker was Stephen (Steve) Kaufer, CEO of Tripadvisor, and the talk was moderated by Tisch Center adjunct faculty member Ed Salvato.
Tripadvisor needs no introduction. As the globally recognized, #1 travel site on the internet, Tripadvisor has completely changed the way that people think about traveling and opened up travel opportunities to billions of people.
Steve Kaufer, co-founder and CEO of Tripadvisor, reminded us what the world of travel looked like before Tripadvisor: “When you wanted to plan a trip, maybe there were television ads, a magazine, etc. Most people went into a travel agency…people relied on these so-called experts to help them.”
He recalled that he and his wife went in to book a trip in the late 1980’s, and he wanted to opt for the cheapest hotel option. Kaufer’s wife urged him to do more research before booking, just to see if the hotel was really as good as it looked. “The brochures looked amazing…[but] I wanted unbiased information,” Kaufer said, “I wanted articles, reviews, recommendations…I wanted other people to tell me what they thought.”
It took a long time for Kaufer to find the information he was looking for, and when he finally did, it wasn’t nearly enough. He thought to himself, “I should start a business to find the gem of the information that’s already out there, to create a travel search engine for the internet.” Thus, Tripadvisor (at the time, named “TripResearch.com”) was born.
Today, Tripadvisor has passed 1 billion consumer reviews posted, and statistics show that it influences 10% of all travel decisions, reaching hundreds of millions of users per month.
"When I started Tripadvisor, I really didn't think about having a tangible impact on the industry, let alone the world," Kaufer stated. “Now we’re impacting the choices that billions of people are making? That's...oh my goodness! That's impactful!"
When asked about what really works for the site, Kaufer talked about how vital other people’s reviews are: “We wake up the next day and the site's better. Automatically. [Because] there are more reviews, there are more people are writing in, there’s more information.”
Kaufer also went on to emphasize how important it was to them that these reviews were trustworthy. “We focused on trust from the beginning”, he said, detailing how they invested in a team to help weed out fake reviews. It has certainly paid off, and Tripadvisor thrives based upon the foundations of that trust, both with the people and the businesses that depend on their site. He noted that small business owners often come up to him and thank him for all the business Tripadvisor has given them, as they are able to appeal to travelers they never could before. Kaufer said that he didn’t do anything—those businesses get good reviews because they deserve them; all Tripadvisor does is help show people that.
While the site started with just the US and was all in English, they have expanded—first to North America, then Europe, then the rest of the world, now in many different languages as well.
Kaufer admitted that a piece of the puzzle he wishes they’d added earlier on was rentals. “I wish I’d thought of Airbnb!” he joked. Nonetheless, Tripadvisor is always looking to expand, looking for what’s next, and asking how they can grow.
“As a company, we’re better together”, Kaufer said, noting that they “have a set of values they believe in at Tripadvisor”. They have focused on building an atmosphere where people like the people they work with.
When asked about the kind of person he might hire, Kaufer stated: “No matter how good you are at your job, if you're not someone that anybody wants to work with, we don't want you at our company. [I want to work with people that are] driven to deliver impactful results in the world that they're in."
He went onto speak about diversity and inclusion within the hiring process as well, stating, "I'm active, I'm looking. We don't make a hire at Tripadvisor until we've seen a diverse list of candidates. We need to represent the population we serve.”
Though Kaufer acknowledged that he’s stepping down from his position of CEO of Tripadvisor at the end of this year, he doesn’t want to stop working. “I think I have one last professional venture left in me!”, he said. “I’m still trying to learn.”