By Martin Kelly, Editor, Travel Trends

Kayak boss Steve Hafner doesn’t mince words. When asked what economies of scale were generated by Kayak’s acquisition of SideStep, another travel search engine, Hafner replied: “There were 120 employees when we bought them … three of those remain”. No excuses, no remorse.

Inevitably concise, entertaining and to the point, Hafner is a co-founder of Kayak, regarded as the benchmark travel search engine, which he describes as a four page website “at its core”.

The company employs just 75 people and is an operation that’s “really focussed on Search Engine Optimisation … we try to get 1% better each week”.

“Now the challenge is to take our success in the US and translate it worldwide.” Kayak’s already in 12 European countries. “The challenge with international expansion isn’t product, it’s actually (getting) the audience.”

Expansion aside, Hafner says Kayak is most focussed on search speed and relevance.

“We have four pages and the three pages we care most about are the result pages. We want to improve the speed, order and relevance. It takes a tremendous amount of engineering work to do that… We do have an algorithm and tweak it all the time.”

Two final comments:

“We don’t want to solve problems at Kayak that affect 1% of consumers; we want to solve problems affecting 99% of consumers.”

And:

“It still boggles my mind how these big Online Travel Agencies have such cluttered and ugly websites.”

Hafner was a star turn at the recent PhoCusWright conference in Los Angeles. 

Travel Trends: December 5, 2008

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