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Did Booking.com Swallow Kayak? No, It’s Just a Marketing Thing

Dennis Schaal, Skift
Did Booking.com Swallow Kayak? No, It’s Just a Marketing Thing

For at least the past three months, U.S.-based Kayak and OpenTable have branded themselves atop their homepages as being “Part of Booking.com,” all three of which are sister companies within parent Booking Holdings.

There’s apparently a marketing motive behind the new cozy branding. The parent company, Booking Holdings, wants to parlay the U.S. brand recognition of Kayak and OpenTable into a higher stateside stature for its Amsterdam-headquartered Booking.com, the leading global accommodations seller that has tried to broaden its reach in the United States for the past several years.

“We have been testing various collaborations across our brands for some time and this will continue,” said Booking Holdings spokeswoman Leslie Cafferty. “We see this, specifically, as a bit of a marketing opportunity to further expose the Booking.com brand to the U.S. audience through brands that have a very strong presence in the market.”

The only problem with Kayak and OpenTable touting themselves as being “Part of Booking.com” is that they aren’t.

In the third quarter, Booking Holdings formally created two new operating units: Kayak/OpenTable and Booking.com/Rentalcars.com. The behind-the-scenes operations of Kayak and OpenTable had actually been blended since the end of 2018 when Kayak CEO Steve Hafner added the dining reservations platform to his responsibilities. Rentalcars.com had likewise been folded into Booking.com, and Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel added the role of Booking.com CEO in June.

So instead of the previous six operating units, Booking Holdings now has four: Booking.com/Rentalcars.com, Kayak/OpenTable, Priceline, and Agoda.

But Kayak/OpenTable is indeed not structurally part of Booking.com although there is brand cooperation. One irony is that UK-based RentalCars.com, which indeed is operationally part of Booking.com, does not tout these ties in its branding because both are European-based businesses, and Booking.com doesn’t need marketing love from the much-smaller Rentalcars.com in the region. Booking.com already has high brand recognition in Europe.

Booking.com is by far Booking Holdings’ largest and most important brand. In 2018, 89 percent of the parent company’s revenue came from its non-U.S.-based businesses, namely Booking.com, Rentalcars.com, and Agoda. And a “substantial majority” of the international revenue came from Booking.com, the company states.

Booking.com launched its first offline marketing campaign in the United States in early 2013, and has been pouring marketing dollars into U.S. TV ever since, but Washington-based Expedia.com still has far larger brand recognition in the 50 states. Although Booking Holdings CEO Fogel noted in 2018 that the company wanted to lean into brand advertising, including TV, Fogel said recently that he isn’t satisfied with the progress, and the company actually reduced its brand marketing spend in the third quarter 22 percent to $124 million.

But Booking Holdings earlier this year hired Google’s vice president of global marketing, Arjan Dijk, as chief marketing officer of Booking.com, and Fogel hopes Dijk can be a difference-maker.

“I am very pleased that we have a new CMO (chief marketing officer) at Booking.com,” Fogel told financial analysts November 7 during the company’s third quarter earnings call. “He’s been there for just a few months. And I am looking forward to working with him very closely to call out with better creative and better campaigns in a way that we will achieve greater results for our brand marketing.”

Another wrinkle in Kayak and OpenTable featuring their ties to Booking.com in their branding is that ever since the Priceline Group changed its name to Booking Holdings in 2018 to reflect the clout of its largest brand, many people use the term “Booking” when talking about both Booking Holdings and Booking.com.

You can envision that perhaps the future branding of Kayak and OpenTable may evolve to “Part of Booking” instead of “Part of Booking.com.”

On the other hand, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing an appeal of a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision to deny Booking.com a trademark because the term is allegedly too generic.

An adverse decision by the High Court could make all of the latest branding initiatives moot.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hat Tip to Jerry Tang, editor at China Travel News, who noticed that Kayak’s branding was proclaiming its ties to Booking.com.

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