The announcement came around the same time that Ctrip was telling the markets on its Q3 earnings call that Skyscanner synergies were a major factor in a triple digit increase in its international air ticketing business.
The trip.com deal is the latest move by Ctrip to reposition Skyscanner away from its metasearch roots and to create “a dynamic airline marketplace” with a direct booking option available. With trip.com on board, Skyscanner can now “launch inspirational and in-trip content to travelers, such as personalized, hyper-relevant recommendations.”
Terms of the deal are not disclosed.
Skyscanner’s chief technology officer Bryan Dove said:
“Our aim has always been to make travel search as simple as possible, providing travelers everything they need in one single place. Adding Trip.com’s content to Skyscanner’s offering represents the next step towards that goal.”
The “one single place” comment connects with what Ctrip has been spending the past 18 years developing for the Chinese market. “One-stop-shop” is often over-used but Ctrip offers its Chinese users access to global inventory, bookable through multiple channels – including offline travel agents – backed up by a 24/7 service centre.
If adding content is the next step for Skyscanner to offer a comparable one-stop-shop experience to its parent company’s, more acquisitions or integrations are possible. For future reference, Ctrip’s “cash and cash equivalents, restricted cash and short-term investments” at the end of September was $7 billion.
This is considerably more than Expedia Inc’s recently reported $3.8 billion at the end of September. Priceline Group’s Q3s are out next week but at the end of its Q2 it had $6.3 billion (not including restricted cash).
Skyscanner’s performance during the quarter was discussed on the call. Direct booking continues to deliver a near-50% improvement in conversions, while the actual number of bookings increased three-fold between May and September as more inventory became bookable within the Skyscanner platform.
Ctrip itself is the biggest direct booking partner for Skyscanner, benefitting from Skyscanner’s strong presence in Asia-Pacific. The number of Ctrip tickets sold through Skyscanner in the quarter was up 250% year-on-year
One of the standout numbers revealed on the call is more technological than financial. Exec chairman James Liang said that Ctrip was “one of the first OTAs to use machine learning to predict travel trends” and that it is currently feeding its data scientists with “50 trillion bytes of data generated daily by our 300 million travel related users…”
Another big number in the earnings is the increase in sales and marketing expenses – up 58% to $357 million year-on-year and 19% from the previous quarter. Talking to analysts, CFO Cindy Wang repeated the familiar line that “as long as the return on investment in each of the [sales and marketing] channels is positive for us, we will continue to make the investments.”
Overall, Ctrip reported net revenue for the third quarter of $1.2 billion, 42% up year on year and 23% up from the three months to end-June. Q3 net income came in at $185 million.
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