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Interview: TripAdvisor FD Julie Bradley

IT HAS ALREADY been an incredibly busy year for Julie Bradley, and she has only been at TripAdvisor for seven months.

The online travel site allows users to locate, read and write reviews of hotels, restaurants and other attractions. It also facilitates reservations and bookings.

Originally part of Expedia – with which it still enjoys a fruitful relationship – its independence has seen it demonstrate precocious growth. It already claims to be the “world’s biggest travel site”.

While that may a bold claim, the figures are impressive.Since its listing on 7 December, the site’s share price has appreciated by 37.5%.

Bradley ascribes those exciting figures down to the unpredictability of online business, which has thus far richly compensated TripAdvisor.

“There is a lot of volatility in the internet space,” she observes. “For TripAdvisor, we’ve been rewarded with upward volatility. Our trend-line has gone up since we spun out from Expedia.”

Part of the reason for that is eschewing over-reliance on traditional advertising methods on the website, instead placing the focus in “engaged travellers”.

While, by Bradley’s own admission a “small amount” of revenue is generated by traditional banner adverts – about 15% – it is those more proactive users that are bringing the bulk of the money in.

“Close to 80% of our revenue comes from an engaged traveller that says ‘yes, I want to see if this hotel is available’ and actually proactively checks those rates,” she says.

“So as long as the quality of our traffic remains high and we’re able and we have an engaged user community that’s looking for a place to stay, we will see revenue continue to grow.”

Having joined TripAdvisor in October last year, she was immediately thrown into the midst of a spin-out process, which saw it break away Expedia.

“I joined the company at the beginning of October, so a lot of the spin-out documentation was done by Expedia,” explains Bradley. “But I did have time to finalise our S4, to design our road show presentation with investors in late November and be part of opening up the NASDAQ form our public image on a public company basis.”

Since then, she has had to construct a finance function almost from scratch, while simultaneously manage the level of interest TripAdvisor had as an existing brand.
A daunting task indeed, and one that had to be executed swiftly.

“All the functions that were previously provided by Expedia, we now needed to build fairly quickly,” she says. “Some of that was done before I got there and they had been hiring, but since then we brought in people to run SCC programmes, I hired in corporate development, investor relations, financial planning and analysis and tax and treasury.”

Involvement in the building process was something of a brave new world for Bradley, having previously had CFO roles at companies with established finance functions.

“There was definitely a play book in place [in her previous position at Art Technology Group]. There was a board that had been meeting for a while; there was a compensation committee, other committees a cadence of how they did their interface with investors.

“This [TripAdvisor] was starting from scratch under a pretty tight timeframe, so I’m glad I had the experience of how it was done in the past and really liked that approach.”

Drawing on those experiences with Art Technology Group and Expedia, Bradley amalgamated the best of the two structures where she could.

“We were in contact with Expedia and how they’ve interfaced with investors because day one, we had the same exact investor base,” she explains. “It was a great help for them to paint the landscape for us and help us understand what that set of investors were looking for. So we kind-of married my past experience with what Expedia shareholders had been getting to date.”

It is the polar opposite of the situation she faced at Art Technology group, which required effort to gain awareness. Instead, Bradley finds herself having to engage in “crowd control” in order to ensure investors and analysts build up a relationship with the company.

“In the past, when I was at ATG I’d nurture a relationship with an analyst or an investor to get them to pay attention to us. Here, it’s trying to divvy up our time to make sure we at least get to know them and start to build a relationship over time.”

As that process settles down, Bradley is beginning to cast her eye over further establishing TripAdvisor as the go-to travel site, offering holiday home rentals in addition to the hotels and restaurants it already provides; something she calls a “natural extension” of the service.

Business listings for hoteliers is something also in the pipeline, allowing them to post specials and connect directly to potential guests through the site and the recently-launched smart phone app.

All this, she hopes, will go a long way to keeping the engaged traveller just that. It is an ambitious aim given the transient nature of web-based customers, and Bradley has a lot to be getting on with in delivering those ends, but as the dust settles, TripAdvisor looks set to find its place.

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