Making The Long Term Case For TripAdvisor ($TRIP)

By: ispeculatornew
Date posted: 02.27.2014 (3:00 am) | Write a Comment  (3 Comments)

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 $TRIPThe Story So far….

TripAdvisor (TRIP) was founded in 2000, purchased by IAC Interactive (IACI) and later spun out with Expedia (EXPE) a few months later. However, it wasn’t until the end of 2011 that the company was spun out and became independent. I’ve argued that TRIP was one of the top social web plays and after doing my research and looking at the latest earnings and calls transcript, I’m strongly considering a longer term speculative position. First, let’s take a look at Tripadvisor’s metrics since its debut.

*Most of the data points were provided over time by TripAdvisor in its press releases, financial statements and interviews done by the CEO

Clearly, traffic is exploding these days and I’d argue that this is actually underestimating the recent growth. Why? Because like most other web properties, an increasing portion of TRIP’s traffic is going through its mobile apps which are not included in Comscore rankings for example.

uniques

 

This is a big point of emphasis by TripAdvisor and rightfully so as it gives a very good estimate of the activity level by its members, the community and in the end it’s the #1 reason why TripAdvisor is consistently ranked #1 in terms of travel related websites.

reviews

 

Revenues are clearly climbing quickly but I’d argue that the explosion in terms of traffic and reviews that we’ve seen will also translate into exploding revenues in the coming years.

revs

 

*Financial information for 2008 and 2009 was only provided on an annual basis, I did estimates of the quarterly breakdown based off of the historical season impact on TRIP’s financials.

Lock-In Effect

One of the big reasons why I strongly believe in Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) is because of their ecosystems. They have a lock-in effect that makes it very difficult for challengers to catch up. I’d argue that while TRIP is not quite there yet, it is making strong progress. If you think about it, Apple owns an ecosystem where it stands in the middle of iphone owners and content providers:

PL

TripAdvisor is in the process of creating a similar relationship between travellers all around the world and the hotels, airlines, attractions, etc. Here is what it would look like:

TRIP

Why Is The Lock-In Important?

This is a CRITICAL part of my value analysis. The difference between a useful site that fades over time as competititors with new features come and those that remain relevant is mostly all about the lock-in effect. I’ve argued that even though new, “cool” apps have been created and gained momentum, Facebook remains the “default” and will remain so for the foreseeable future. TRIP needs to accomplish that by:

-Keep innovating and improving its content and features
-Increasingly engage with the participants (travellers and those offering services)
-Increase the interactions between participants

I think TRIP is doing exceptionally in all 3 phases:

Has been improving its sites, developping mobile apps, working on features such as travel rewards, etc. In a mobile world, there are benefits to unbundling ones services. That is why both Google and Facebook are launching standalone apps that offer easier access to features that you’d see on their desktop site. TRIP is extremely well positioned here with over 19 different brands that it has acquired, developed, etc.

brands

 

seatguru

Has been building relationships with businesses that are actively engaged on Tripadvisor (more on that later) and also with travellers through emails. Features such as the top hotels in the world or the 10 places you need to see are not only viral but they also get users to interact more with its brand
-For years, the company has made it easier for businesses to react to reviews, giving them an easier way to communicate with the end-clients. Also, in the earnings call, the execs discussed the ongoing project of getting users to have their own “page” on the website which could become a type of blogging/photos platform which certainly has upside

*reviews
*the next step
*unbundling services

TripAdvisor (TRIP) vs Facebook (FB)

It’s certainly interesting to see how TRIP was built on top of Facebook Connect which has made it much easier to get members to sign up, connect with their friends, etc. So yes, it’s certainly dangerous for Facebook to be built on top of another ecosystem and you could certainly say that FB is in a better position. Don’t get me wrong, FB is a great investment, but I do think that TRIP is positioning itself very well to build its own strong community. I also like how TRIP has been more vocal about its plans to go beyond advertising which I’ve been hoping Facebook would do at some point.

What Kind Of Potential Is Out There?

As you’d expect, TripAdvisor started off as an advertising-based model and remains to this day mostly based off of that. It was the most logical step and was mostly done through display (CPM) and per click (CPC) ads.

While I do think those models are there to stay, there is clearly something much bigger being worked on. The existing business accounts are able to get some type of subscription based services and I’d imagine that over time, TRIP will make it easier for the companies to advertise on the network which could increase significantly the number of advertisers bidding on its ad space.

Over time, it could also help businesses take reservations, process payments, etc. This would most likely be geared towards smaller businesses but those have significant business in the travel world. Just think of what OpenTable is starting to do with restaurant reservations (going beyond reviews to reservations and even payment processing)

quote

 

source

TRIPc

Potential Earnings

I do think that over time, Trip will be able to generate significantly more per user.

In 2013, TRIP had revenues of $945M with over 2B unique visitors, coming down to an almost insulting $0.47/visitor. The company has been (rightfully so) focused on growth and expanding its reach so far but I’d expect the focus on revenues to increase significantly in the coming 3-5 years. According to TheInformation.com, revenues/user are between $5-7 for Facebook, LinkedIn and even Yahoo. I can’t think of a reason why TRIP could not match that.

When I look at comparables in terms of potential visitor profile, I’d probably use a benchmark such as LNKD. Why?

-travellers have above average income
-Linkedin is in a similar situation (does not own an ecosystem but is in the middle of its users)
-Both target individuals and businesses (which have more corporate money to throw)

That would make TRIP massively undervalued at this point. It would have been nice to get this strong feeling a year ago at a cheaper price but it’s far from too late in my opinion. I will likely take a long term speculative position in the near future… will keep you posted but I’d love to hear your thoughts,

Disclosure: Long Tripadvisor (TRIP), Long Facebook (FB)

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3 Comments

  1. Comment by Johan Lindén — February 27, 2014 @ 4:27 am

    Funny, I actually made the comparison to LNKD myself the other day. I intuitively feel that TRIP is a much stronger bet than LNKD and yet it has considerable lower market cap. That could of course be leveled out from LNKD decreasing in value.

    Even in restaurants/facilities in Eastern Europe the name was strong this summer which impressed me.

    Just a note on your charts.
    1. I don’t know why anyone would ever use non-logarithmic/exponential charts in finance.
    2. The charts are in some strange format which makes the right part of them always cut off. At least on a Firefox browser.

  2. Comment by Johan Lindén — February 27, 2014 @ 4:28 am

    A long TRIP, short LNKD could be something for the future.

  3. Comment by IS — February 27, 2014 @ 7:47 am

    @Johan – That is funny, I hesitated to add the comparison but looks like I’m not alone on this one, happy to hear!

    -the only one I did is the reviews part because that was the info I had and it would be at best very imprecise to not do it that way. Visitors and financial info is all presented in a standard way
    -I’d assume that is due to the size of your screen, if you click on the charts they should show full size

    and I don’t think I’d short LNKD over any length of time at this point, I do think their business is incredibly promising and they could get “big fat” corporate contracts in the coming years.

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