Kaufer: Leaving Tripadvisor, but not necessarily travel

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — After 21 years at the helm, Tripadvisor founder and CEO Steve Kaufer announced last week that he will be stepping down in 2022. But, he told attendees here at the Phocuswright Conference, although he is retiring from Tripadvisor, he is not retiring, nor ruling out a second act in the travel industry.

Asked during an onstage interview with Phocuswright’s director of research, Alice Jong, whether the audience might see him in another travel role, he replied, “I’m not ruling anything out. I love, love, love the travel industry. I’m excited about the future, doing something. But I’m not sure what it will be.”

Chief among the things that he’s excited about is “how augmented reality will play into travel experiences. I envision going into a museum, looking at a painting and seeing it through augmented reality glasses, hearing the artist tell me about a brushstroke that I should pay attention to. Or an architect telling me something about the building I’m looking at.”

Simultaneous translation is another innovation he feels will revolutionize the travel experience.

Asked why he chose this moment to retire, he said it was on his mind during the pandemic, but that he would never have made such a move when travel was so down.

“This company has so much potential, and we’re in such a good place now, while travel is recovering. There’s never a perfect time, but founder transitions do happen. And I’m 110% involved until I’m not.”

Acknowledging that it was, in some ways, hard to let go, he said that even though “someone else will be in charge of my baby,” he’s nonetheless “good with that.”

Regarding his yet-to-be-determined successor, he said, “The culture of the company is far stronger than just me as a leader. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines. I do hope they’re like me in some regards. And a helluva lot better in other regards.”

What advice would he give to his younger self? Reinvent the company when times are good rather than waiting until you have to, he replied. Don’t accept the status quo in favor of doing something better. “It took me 20 years to figure that out.”

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