TripAdvisor deal marks long journey to exit for Viator founder Rod Cuthbert


Nineteen years is a long time to wait for an exit from your startup.


Last week, tours and activities company Viator, which was founded by Rod Cuthbert in Australia in 1995, entered into an agreement to be acquired by TripAdvisor for $200 million, predominantly in cash.


Viator works with local tour operators to give travellers the ability to research, book and review tours and activities across the world.


The company is now based in San Francisco, and its largest shareholders are private equity firm Carlyle Venture Partners and Australia’s Technology Venture Partners.


Cuthbert, who is the chief executive officer of Rome2Rio, has not had an active role with Viator since 2010, but remains closely linked to the company.


Over the years it has raised $11.1 million in funding and Cuthbert says nobody has sold stakes in the company since venture capital got involved.


“I guess after 19 years, that’s a very long wait,” Cuthbert says with a laugh.


“After 19 years you’re not really a startup, you’ve got 200 staff, an established office, a lot of revenue and a lot of memories.”


During that time the company had to negotiate a number of downturns that hit the tourism industry more generally, including September 11, the SARS virus, and the Bali bombing.


He says the acquisition is validation of the tours and activities industry and will throw a spotlight on startups operating in the sector.


“There’s been a lot of discussion about the importance of tours and activities, based around the concept that the reason people travel is to do things in a particular destination, skiing in New Zealand, seeing the Louvre in Paris,” he says.


“Tours and activities are absolutely crucial to the whole travel model, yet tours and activities have never been central within the industry itself, flights and hotels have been.


“Now there will be more of a focus from investors and major players in the space, on companies like Viator, but also companies that offer related services, software for tour operators, the whole ecosystem.”


In a statement announcing the acquisition, TripAdvisor president and chief executive officer Stephen Kaufer says online and mobile bookings for attractions and activities offer a huge opportunity for the company.


“Travellers want to explore local attractions while on their trip, and Viator’s depth in global attractions combined with their seamless booking experience will provide immediate benefit to our community, whether in the planning phase or on the trip,” he says.


Subject to the completion of customary conditions, the acquisition is expected to close during the third quarter of 2014.