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Business model change hits TripAdvisor's click-based revenue

By Mridhula Raghavan and Rohit T. K.

(Reuters) - TripAdvisor Inc Chief Executive Steve Kaufer said its business in the quarter so far has been "bumpier" than expected, following the roll-out of a new method of directing online travel customers to its booking partners.

Shares of the company, which offers customer-generated travel ratings and takes a fee for any traffic sent through to third-party booking sites, closed down 9 percent following the CEO's comments at the Canaccord Gennuity Growth Conference.

They had run up 32 percent through Tuesday after the company, spun off from online travel agency Expedia Inc in 2011, reported strong second-quarter results in late July.

Kaufer said the change in TripAdvisor's model has hurt click-based revenue. Fewer click-throughs to third-party sites was yet to be offset by the higher prices it can charge for clicks that have a greater chance of converting into a booking.

TripAdvisor completed the launch of its "meta search" function in June that now aggregates hotel room prices and availability on the company's own web page, minimizing the traveler's need to click through and compare multiple travel sites to make a booking.

The CEO said on Wednesday that he expects the pricing strength to make up for the decreased lead volumes by the end of the year, but was not optimistic that it would happen sooner.

Jefferies & Co analysts said the roll out was a productive, but disruptive, change that was done fairly quickly, leaving clients little time to assess its impact.

"We think TripAdvisor probably had to roll out the meta format out quicker than originally anticipated in order to more effectively compete with Google's recently launched Carousel product," the analysts said.

Google in June launched its competing Carousel, which pulls up review-based scores, address and photos of any place that is searched, along with prices from booking sites.

(Editing by Joyjeet Das)

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