Expedia got a lot of buzz for its 2015 buying binge, but over the last two years China's Ctrip has been on an equal footing with Expedia in terms of acquisition activity. At the same time, TripAdvisor is stockpiling dining-related sites, having bought five and invested in two others.
It isn’t widely appreciated, but if you tally the mergers and acquisitions’ activity of the globe’s major online travel agencies over the last two years, Expedia Inc. and Ctrip actually battled to a near tie, spending around $5.8 billion and $5.5 billion, respectively.
Expedia seemingly took out almost every online travel agency in site in 2015, and Ctrip likewise eliminated a couple of Chinese competitors, buying one from Expedia, that same year.
But after huge acquisitions in the last couple of years, the Priceline Group (OpenTable in 2014) and Expedia Inc. (Travelocity, Orbitz Worldwide and HomeAway in 2015) sat out 2016 — and didn’t buy a thing.
Or anything worth reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Pity the bevy of travel startups who traditionally look to Priceline and Expedia, with their huge cash stockpiles, to facilitate exits for investors.
Among the four largest online travel sites, Priceline is “winning” the acquisition sweepstakes so far in 2017 with its $550 million still-pending acquisition of UK and Denmark metasearch company the Momondo Group.
It all depends on your perspective though. Just ask Expedia about short-term problems in on-boarding Orbitz and query Priceline regarding its $941 million write-down of OpenTable. Sometimes on the mergers and acquisitions front, it’s better to sit on your hands and not do anything, as Priceline’s Glenn Fogel will tell you when seeking to circumvent distractions.
Skift took a look at the mergers and acquisitions’ activities of the Priceline Group, Expedia Inc., China’s Ctrip and TripAdvisor in 2016, reviewed what they did in 2015, too, and found some lesser-known patterns emerging. (See the chart below).
Source: Security and Exchange Commission filings and published reports
Expedia Vs. Ctrip
While it drew the most publicity in 2015 with its acquisitions of Travelocity, buying out the remainder of its AirAsia joint venture, Orbitz Worldwide and HomeAway, Expedia didn’t cite any specific purchases in its filings covering 2016, stating that it spent only a “nominal” amount on acquisitions. While it spent next to nothing on acquisitions last year, Expedia’s buying spree came in at a price tag of more than $5.8 billion in 2015.
The $5.8 billion sum covered the four big acquisitions and Expedia purchased three additional companies in 2015 for undisclosed sums.
So if you consider that Expedia spent more than $5.8 billion on mergers and acquisitions in 2015 and 2016 combined, then it may be surprising to learn that a much smaller and up-and-coming rival, Ctrip, could be placed in the same mergers and acquisitions conversation, having spent around $5.5 billion or more on acquisitions and minority investments in 2015 and 2016.
When you tally minority investments that Ctrip made in 2015 and 2016, including $50 million for a 4 percent stake packaged-tour provider Tuniu; $180 million in India’s MakeMyTrip; $440 million in China Eastern Airlines, then Ctrip’s buying binge over the last two years stacks up even closer to Expedia’s. Ctrip also exchanged its 15 percent stake in Homeinns Hotel Group for shares in BTG Hotels and recorded a $203 million gain.
Ctrip and Expedia actually were buyer and seller, respectively, in the 2015 eLong deal. In so doing, Ctrip eliminated a rival in eLong, and Expedia unloaded a money-losing and financially draining Chinese subsidiary.
It’s a lot harder to pin a figure on Ctrip’s purchases than its U.S.-based peers because, as a foreign headquartered, public company, Ctrip’s disclosures aren’t as rigorous. While Ctrip disclosed that it spent $1.7 billion for Skyscanner in late 2016 and $422 million for a 38 percent, and ultimately controlling, equity stake in eLong in 2015, Ctrip didn’t spell out a total sum for buying a 45 percent, controlling voting interest in Qunar in October 2015, although press reports pegged it at $3.4 billion.
Ctrip also took controlling stakes in three U.S. tour operators in 2016 that cater to Chinese vacationers in the U.S. The company didn’t disclose the purchase prices, which presumably weren’t material to Ctrip’s financials.
TripAdvisor was the busiest buyer
TripAdvisor was the most acquisitive of the four public online travel sites in 2016 in terms of number of deals at five, although, as is its custom, it spent only $34 million for the quintet. Three of them (Tous au Restaurant, Sneat, both in France, and Couverts in the Netherlands) were dining reservations-related for TripAdvisor’s The Fork, and TripAdvisor also picked up vacation rental site HouseTrip in Europe and social mapping platform City Maps in the U.S.
In 2015, TripAdvisor acquired dining-reservation sites BestTables in Portugal/Brazil and Dimmi in Australia, as well as photo and travel-sharing site ZeTrip in the U.S. As is its style with these relatively small acquisitions in the last couple of years, TripAdvisor shelled out just $28 million in 2015 for the three acquisitions.
Like Ctrip, TripAdvisor was busy last year, although in its own modest way, taking minority investments in travel-related startups.
TripAdvisor spent $14 million in 2016 in securing minority stakes in a couple of dining-related platforms, Eatigo in Southeast Asia and EatWith in Israel, as well as itinerary-sharing and loyalty site Traxo in the U.S.
On the other side of the ledger, TripAdvisor, like Expedia, exited a business in China in 2015. TripAdvisor sold its Chinese metasearch site, Kuxun.cn, for $28 million in cash.
China is a very tough market for U.S. companies to break into as Expedia, TripAdvisor, Uber and Amazon can attest. All abandoned initiatives they started in China over the years.
What does 2017 have in store?
With Ctrip closing on its $1.7 billion Skyscanner deal in December 2016 and the Priceline Group announcing in February 2017 that it is acquiring the Momondo Group to pair with Priceline’s Kayak business, 2017 could turn out to be considerably busier on the mergers and acquisitions front than was the prior year.
When you consider that Airbnb, too, is seeking to branch out beyond apartment-sharing and tours, and announced a deal last month to purchase Canada’s Luxury Retreats, the fact that Ctrip and Priceline have picked up the acquisition pace in the last few months, and the global travel industry is wary of Google making gains in travel, then this mixture should make for some big headlines this year for the travel industry.
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Photo credit: In terms of mergers and acquisitions, Expedia's Dara Khosrowshahi needs to look right back over his shoulder at Jane Sun's Ctrip. The two CEOs have been buying companies at a frenzied clip over the last two years. Skift/Ctrip