Barring a reversal in market conditions, buckle up because 2015 is looking like it will be a very active year in mergers and acquisitions among online travel companies.
With Expedia Inc. the Priceline Group and, to a lesser extent, TripAdvisor, seemingly trying to acquire almost every attractive and affordable missing piece in sight, investment activity turned to Latin America as Expedia Inc. took a minority stake in Decolar.com.
The $270 million move, which includes primary and second investments, means Expedia Inc. expands its 12-year-old relationship with Decolar, and takes a stake that’s less than 20 percent, according to Expedia Inc. CFO Mark Okerstrom.
The Priceline Group, meanwhile, is not sitting around passively. Just a couple of weeks after announcing a $1.13 billion (1 billion euros) public offering of senior notes, Priceline announced today another underwritten offer of senior notes of $500 million for general corporate purposes, including share buybacks, reducing debt and acquisitions.
That brings the Priceline Group’s fundraising efforts to around $1.63 billion, although the net proceeds would be marginally lower than this.
Based in Argentina and founded in 1999, Decolar, which also operates Despegar-branded sites, is the largest online travel agency in Latin America.
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Part of the Travelocity and Orbitz Strategy
Speaking at the Piper Jaffray Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference in New York City March 10, Okerstrom said Expedia will be powering Decolar’s hotel supply, and hopes to work closer with the company in sharing some of the things that Expedia has learned in online marketing, for example.
In answer to a question by Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson, Okerstrom said Latin America is much different than China, where a lot of big players are spending huge sums.
Speaking of markets such as Brazil and Argentina, Okerstrom said of Decolar: “They are the player to be reckoned with in that region.”
Okerstrom likened Expedia Inc.’s $270 million minority investment in Decolar to Expedia’s recent acquisitions of Travelocity and Wotif, as well as its pending acquisition of Orbitz Worldwide, in the sense that Expedia is investing in what it calls great brands and can leverage advantages such as its global scale via its technology platform and hotel footprint.
“We will be powering their hotel supply,” Okerstrom said, referring to Decolar. “It is all part of that strategy.”
A spokesperson for Decolar points out that the company remains independent and that the benefits are two ways in that Expedia gets access to hotels that it didn’t have in the region.
“We are giving Expedia also value with this deal after 15 years of working in difficult markets such as Brazil, Colombia and Mexico where they see Decolar´s good performance,” the Decolar spokesperson says.
Priceline Group Raising More Money
Although the Priceline Group announced that the company will be doing another public offering of senior notes, the company hasn’t disclosed the amount. The company already had some $8 billion in cash and short-term investments on hand at the end of 2014.
Still, while the Priceline Group may be using the proceeds for share repurchases and paying down debt, it is also easy to see how it may be bankrolling some of the proceeds of the two offerings for a substantial acquisition or two.
This doesn’t mean that an acquisition is imminent but market conditions are considered good at this juncture for public offerings.
Since last Summer, the Priceline Group has acquired OpenTable and Rocketmiles while Expedia Inc. has acquired Wotif and Travelocity, announced a pending acquisition of Orbitz Worldwide, and now has taken a minority stake in Decolar.
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Photo credit: Expedia Inc. took a minority stake in Despegar, the leading online travel agency in Latin America. Despegar