Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Online Travel

Travelzoo Moves To Fund Metaverse Experiences

2 months ago

Travelzoo, a hotel and package deal publisher, said in a financial filing on Tuesday that it would ask its stockholders to approve making a metaverse experiences scouting business a wholly owned subsidiary of Travelzoo. The business, Metaverse Travel Experiences (MTE), is currently wholly owned by Azzurro Capital.

The proposed consideration for the issuance of Travelzoo stock is mix of $10 million (details are explained in the document posted below) and 100 percent of the equity in MTE.

At a Dec. 28 special meeting, the company will ask shareholders to vote on allowing the hedge fund Azzuro Capital, an investment vehicle owned by Travelzoo founder Ralph Bartel, to pursue a transaction that would effectively leave Azzuro and Bartel with an approximate 50.01 percent stake in Travelzoo (up from 35.99 percent) and his brother, CEO Holger Bartel, with 4.1 percent. The company will issue shares of common stock representing approximately 27.5 percent of outstanding stock.

The planned subsidiary aims to build “relationships with creators and providers of high-quality metaverse travel experiences to broker contracts between such creators/experience providers and businesses planning to market metaverse experiences to consumers.” Skift covered the debut of the unit earlier this year.

The financial filing is posted below.

Online Travel

Trip.com Group Taps $1.5 Billion Loan Tied to Green Targets

2 months ago

Trip.com Group said on Friday it had tapped a $1.5 billion sustainability-linked loan facility, meaning that the financing terms link the debt’s interest rates to the Chinese online travel giant’s performance against specific environmental targets.

The Shanghai-based company will use three-year dual-tranche term loan facility to refinance some of its debt, and the rest for general corporate purposes.

The move appeared to be the first time a major online travel player adopted green finance. Last year, a shareholder initiative prodded Booking Holdings to do a climate change report. The report came out this year. In October, the company said its Booking.com brand would add emissions estimates to bookings soon. Trip.com-owned Skyscanner has estimated flight emissions for consumers for a few years.

Climate-related risk is on investors’ minds as they look at their portfolios. For travel in general, the sustainability-linked bond may provide more flexibility for investors worried about this issue, said Leslie Samuelrich, president of Boston-based Green Century Capital Management. Sustainability-linked bonds are different from green bonds. They set macro targets for a company, while green bonds commit to specific projects.

The investment concept is growing fast, Samuelrich said. Last year, lenders issued $103 billion in sustainability-linked bonds to companies across various industries. The year before that, it was about $12 billion.

In April, Ascott Residence Trust issued a sustainability-linked bond — apparently the first in the hotel sector — worth about $143 million ($200 million Singaporean). Ascott Residence Trust has committed to a sustainability performance target of greening half of its total portfolio by 2025, and its interest rates would essentially rise on the loan facility if it fails to meet the target.

The process remains murky and slow burn, though. There’s a debate about measuring the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to the climate emergency. IFRS Foundation, the international accounting standards-setting body, has this year been working on setting standards for emissions-focused reporting. Their work, and the work of other organizations, will adjust how investors evaluate climate risk — a knotty task inviting skepticism from some critics.

Side note: Trip.com’s chief commercial officer Schubert Lou will talk about the international division of Trip.com Group at Skift Global Forum East in Dubai on Dec. 14.

Travel Technology

Yanolja Profit Rises as Travel Rebounds in Korea and Asia Pacific

2 months ago

Yanolja said this week it expected that a post-pandemic rebound in international travel will continue to boost its twin businesses of online travel sales via a superapp and software sales to hotels and other travel companies. The South Korea-based startup has made progress on both ambitions since 2011, when it received a $1.7 billion investment from the Softbank Vision Fund in a transaction that valued Yanolja at the time at approximately US$9 billion.

The privately held travel company in South Korea reported this week some of its financial results for the third quarter, saying it had experienced “high growth rates in all business areas.”

Yanolja recorded consolidated sales of approximately $147 million (192.2 billion Korean won) in the quarter, a 112 percent jump from the same period a year.

Unlike many travel startups, the company is profitable. Yanolja reported an adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, of about $8.1 million (10.6 billion Korean won).

Roughly half of the company’s growth has been partly driven by its software business, which had a 32 percent year-over-year increase to $71 million in sales in the quarter. For more context on the travel software sales, see Skift’s story Decoding Yanolja Cloud and Its Hotel Software Strategy.

The mid-sized company said it has been staffing up for roles in product management, software engineering, and user experience design, and has cash on hand to make acquisitions.

Jongyoon Kim, CEO of Yanolja, will discuss the company’s overall strategy and business performance at Skift Global Forum East in Dubai on December 14. Kim joined Yanolja in 2015 as chief strategy officer and in 2021, was elevated to CEO. He has previously worked at McKinsey & Company, Google, and 3M. Many industry analysts wonder if Kim will be able to guide the ambitious tartup to a successful initial public offering someday, and if so, when.

Overtourism

Airbnb Data Says Flexible Search Tools Help Combat Overtourism

3 months ago

Airbnb said that the flexible search features it has rolled out since early 2021 have so far diverted bookings from destinations coping with overtourism and peak travel times, according to data it shared on Friday.

The short-term rental booking giant has increasingly offered search tools — see Skift’s earlier coverage: “Airbnb’s Next Big Change: Search” — in response to evidence that many people don’t have a destination or fixed dates in mind when they start researching trips.

Some of Airbnb’s new data points from its first whitepaper on “sustainable tourism” (embedded below).

  • “In 2019, the top 10 most visited cities on Airbnb in the European Union — including Paris, Barcelona, and Rome — accounted for 20 percent of all trips in Europe, whereas they account for just 14 percent of trips in 2022.”
  • “Guests using flexible search tools book less often in the 20 most popular destinations on Airbnb in Europe (-17.5 percent) and more often in less-visited communities ranked outside Airbnb’s top 400 destinations (+35.5 percent), when compared to guests booking via traditional search on Airbnb.”
  • “Guests booking via Airbnb’s flexible search tool—that provides an option to include a location without dates—are also more likely to book outside the top 10% most popular dates (-7.3 percent) and are more likely to book nights on weekdays (+5.7 percent).”
  • “Flexible search is also helping to redirect guests approximately 5 miles farther away from their initial intended location within cities, compared to traditional searchers on Airbnb … In Amsterdam, flexible bookers more often stay outside the city’s inner limits (+32.5 percent) compared to traditional bookers.”

As context: Airbnb’s search changes had two components.

People who don’t have a destination in mind can now be inspired by Airbnb’s new “Categories” category, which has been viewed more than 120 million times since August, according to company statements. This tool helps divert reservations away from Europe’s most saturated hotspots, according to Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer, when discussing the report at Web Summit in Lisbon on Thursday.

Travelers with flexible dates have been able to take advantage of Airbnb’s recently added feature that lets them say they’re really interested in traveling anywhere for a week and a week or a month anytime in the next year. The tool lets some travelers avoid peak time crushes in travel because of seasonality.

The report’s data points echos comments Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky made at Skift Global Forum in September.

“What we want to do now is we want to be more in the inspiration business,” Chesky said. “You come to Airbnb and we can point demand to where we have supply. … We can highlight what makes us unique and get into the top of the purchasing funnel, which is basically giving people ideas of where to travel based on what’s available.”

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky (see full video)

Airbnb has been attempting to cope with the overtourism ever since 2018, when it created an “office of healthy tourism,” which at the time was the company’s term for proper tourism growth management. It began adding flexible search tools in early 2021, as Skift reported.

Skift coined the term overtourism to describe “a potential hazard to popular destinations worldwide, as the dynamic forces that power tourism often inflict unavoidable negative consequences if not managed well.”

See Airbnb’s sustainable tourism report, below:

Online Travel

South Korean Antitrust Watchdog Fines Booking.com and Agoda

3 months ago

South Korea’s antitrust regulator said Tuesday it would slap two Booking Holdings brands fines of $1,750 (2.5 million won) for its flagship brand Booking.com — and a similar fine on sister brand Agoda — for not clearly telling customers that their search results are partly based on advertising, Yonhap News Agency reported.

CORRECTION: This article originally reported an inaccurate currency conversion of $1.75 million per fine.

The Korea Fair Trade Commission said the online travel booking brands had “deceived” customers by not clearly saying that they had listed certain businesses, such as hotels, at the top of their search results partly because those companies had paid fees for the privilege.

The regulator said the practice might lead some customers to think certain businesses were at the top of search restuls solely because of their services and facilities, Yonhap reported.

Booking.com placed a “thumbs-up” logo next to hotels that paid fees, but the regulator said that was inadequate. Agoda used phrases, such as “Agoda Growth Program,” next to listings for hotels that had paid for premium placement, but the regulator faulted that practice as being insufficiently clear.

UPDATE: A Booking.com spokesperson provided the following statement:

“While we have a different view of the decision taken by the KFTC, we accept the judgment. At Booking, we always strive to comply with local laws and regulations in every country we operate in and more often than not, voluntarily go beyond the minimum compliance requirements instituted in the local legal framework. We strongly believe in the importance of continually improving the consumer experience on our website and mobile apps to bring transparency, choice, and value to travelers.”

—A Booking.com spokesperson.

Over the last several years, many online travel companies have become the subject of investigations by various national competition authorities for advertising, contractural, and selling practices.

Online Travel

Booking.com to Test Guest ID Verification and Payment Alternatives for Foreign Purchases

3 months ago

Booking Holdings is hiring rapidly at its new engineering office in Bengaluru, India, to work on new projects such as how to verify guest identification with machine learning and new products such as alternative forms of international payment to traditional credit and debit cards.

The parent company of Booking.com has about 20 employees at its tech center now but expects to ramp that up to about 100 by year-end, according to The Times of India. The business unit will work on how to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to better manage risks and hassles in travel transactions.

The company wants to verify IDs such as passports and driving licenses by linking the company to sources of identification data and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to scan these and verify identities automatically.

That is one of the projects that the Bengaluru office will tackle, Daniel Marovitz, senior vice president of fintech at Booking.com, told The Times of India.

The team will also look at possibly building a “foreign exchange card” as an alternative form of payment to a traditional credit or debit card. Today, many credit and debit cards charge a different, higher foreign exchange rate than the lowest available on the market.

The planned Booking.com product would attempt to offer a cheaper alternative. The ambition is for customers to use the card, which will come in physical and digital forms, for routine purchases and not just for booking a hotel. It may eventually enable customers to take advantage of buy-now-pay-later and other insurance-like products that Booking Holdings might operate on its own as a financial technology player.

Both projects fit with Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel‘s vision for “a connected trip” that he laid out at Skift Global Forum in September (see video).

The news of the product testing and development dovetails with recent Skift Megatrends about the financialization of travel and how the rise of global mobile wallets are upending travel payments.

Travel Booking

Hapi Travel Launches Subscription Service for the U.S. Market

5 months ago

Subscription travel platform Hapi Travel Destinations has launched in the U.S.

More brands are building paid travel subscriptions, powered by shifts in traveler priorities and work-life flexibility, but Hapi Travel also wants to expand by offering “additional income in the new gig economy.”

A subsidiary of direct-sell specialist Sharing Services Global Corporation, it plans to add more “promoters” and says it lets users earn points when they book a vacation for their next trip, but also earn them when they refer other people.

It also claims to offer travel savings, which come at a cost: its Explorer subscription involves a basic monthly membership fee of $50 a month, while its Elite+ package costs $2,500 to join, and then $244 a year.

It offers discounts on hotels, resorts, cruises and condos, as well as car rentals, activities, flights and shopping, leveraging its direct-sell business.

“This new and unique membership-based travel club is designed for everyone to enjoy maximum savings and travel perks on the most luxurious vacation getaways throughout the world or save money on ordinary daily personal or corporate travel,” said John Thatch, CEO of Sharing Services Global Corporation.

In July, membership-focused travel tech firm Mondee went public. It mainly offers cloud-based tools to so-called “gig travel agents,” a category of independent workers it claims is growing. But the 1,000-employee company also offers direct-to-consumer subscription travel sales, rewards-based business travel programs, wholesaling services, and other offerings.

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