In its rough outlines, Expedia begot Trip.com Group while Kayak and ITA Software begot Google Travel. Get ready for a flurry of clones in fintech, superapps, and subscription services in travel. In fact, it's already happening.
Dennis' Online Travel Briefing
Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, Executive Editor and online travel rockstar Dennis Schaal will bring readers exclusive reporting and insight into the business of online travel and digital booking, and how this sector has an impact across the travel industry.
Online Travel This Week
In online travel, if you build it, and it has a semblance of success, there will be legions of imitators. So get ready for a flurry of copycats in fintech, superapps, and subscriptions, with the troika being among the most significant trends in online travel.
Booking Holdings’ establishment of an independent fintech unit within its assortment of brands is only the latest foray among travel or travel-related companies into the financial services sphere. Of course, Booking has been developing its own payments platform, which is attracting a ever-larger portion of its overall bookings, for the past five years or so.
While piling up red ink, Indonesia’s Traveloka expanded its fintech services during the pandemic when travel was impossible.
The big superapps in Southeast Asia, including Grab and Gojek, offer fintech services, as does AirAsia Digital, which is acquiring Gojek’s Thailand operations. AirAsia is betting big on financial services although its Big Pay division isn’t close to being profitable yet.
Superapps, which are consolidating, will produce imitators galore because of their huge valuations. Grab is in the process of merging with an Altimeter Capital special-purpose acquisition company at something around a $40 billion valuation, and Gojek merged with Tokopedia to form GoTo Group, with plans for a multibillion dollar valuation and a dual listing in New York and Jakarta, Indonesia later this year.
Given the complexities of financial services, both within the travel industry and beyond, and the broken nature of it, fintech seems ripe for disruption, and superapps are trending, although it remains to be seen if and how they would be adopted in the West.
Google, including Google Maps, is trending toward superapp status and seems capable of creating a superapp, although Google protests that this is not its goal. Unlike in Asia, where many people access the Web exclusively from the mobile devices, it remains to be seen if Westerners, who weren’t mobile natives, are amenable to booking everything from a single app on their phones.
Subscription services, from Tripadvisor Plus to eDreams Prime, not to mention Amazon Prime, seem to be having a moment, but their level of success or failure in the travel industry is a work in progress. Luxury subscription service Inspirato is in the process of merging with a public Thayer Ventures special purpose acquisition company at a more than $1 billion valuation.
We’ve seen over and over again ad infinitum in the travel industry — and in business generally — that success spurs the creation of look-alike and cloned companies. China’s Trip.com Group in its early days copied Expedia, Google Hotels took inspiration from Kayak, which cloned earlier metasearch companies, and so on.
So get ready for the startup frenzy in fintech, superapps, and subscriptions. The process is already well under way.
Airbnb Expands Neighborhood Support Line
Trying to get a better handle on the party house issue, Airbnb has steadily expanded the range of its support line for impacted neighbors. A particular emphasis has been to introduce the service in Spanish. In addition to North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific, neighbors can now access the support line in Spanish in the majority of Latin America, as well as the U.S., Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Spain.
Sonder’s Blank Check Merger On Track
Quasi hotel-company Sonder appears to be on course with its proposed blank check company merger with Gores Metropoulos II. Sonder reported that revenue per available room of $77 in the first quarter — about 64 percent of the same of the same period in pre-pandemic 2019. Sonder projects it will add some 6,000 units in 2021, roughly doubling its portfolio. Skift
South Korea’s Yanolja to Take Softbank Funding
Another online travel company, this time it’s South Korea online travel agency, Yanolja, agreed to take funding from the Saudi government-backed SoftBank Vision Fund. Yanolja is taking $800 million from SoftBank for a 10 percent stake. Oyo, GetYourGuide, Grab and Uber are among travel companies indirectly funded by the Saudi government, which assassinated Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Skift
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