• Hotelbeds buys transfer group

Hotelbeds has acquired HolidayTaxis group, a transfer specialist, in a deal it said reinforced its commitment to the ancillary distribution space.

The agreement came only a few months after Booking Holdings invested USD500m into Didi Chuxing, the China-based ride-hailing group.

HolidayTaxis Group is based in the UK and operates 21,000 transfer routes, spanning 150 countries.

The news followed Hotelbeds recent decision to rename its ancillary product line as ‘Beyond the Bed’, with the offering including transfers, activities, tickets, theme parks, car hire, travel insurance and specialist tours.

Joan Vilà, executive chairman, Hotelbeds said: “In recent years our ancillaries business has grown substantially as the strength of our technology platform and global distribution network has positioned us effectively to take full advantage of the increasing demand for in-destination activities worldwide.

“We already offer a wide range of revenue enhancing products to our partners, including transfers, tours, activities, car hire, theme park tickets, and more – but the addition of HolidayTaxis significantly strengthens our portfolio, underlining our commitment to provide greater choice to our travel trade partners.”

Hotelbeds has undertaken a series of deals since being sold by TUI Group in 2016 to Cinven Capital Management and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board for EUR1.19bn in cash. Shane Feeney, managing director at CPPIB, said at the time: “Hotelbeds is a unique opportunity to invest in the leading operator within the hotel accommodation distribution market, an industry which has strong long-term prospects that will support continued growth.”

TUI and Hotelbeds remained close, with the latter selling back the destination management business  earlier this year.

Last year saw Hotelbeds Group acquire GTA for an undisclosed fee from Kuoni Group, giving it a foothold in the Asia-Pacific region. It also bought Tourico Holidays, bolstering its standing in North America.

While Hotelbeds was adding a transport service, earlier this year saw Booking Holdings invest USD500m in a strategic partnership with Didi Chuxing

With the partnership, Booking Holdings’ brands will have the ability to offer on-demand car service through their apps, powered by Didi, and Didi customers will have the option to book hotels through Booking.com or Agoda.

Stephen Zhu, VP, strategy, Didi Chuxing, said: “Building on its leadership and expertise in the global online travel market, Booking is championing a digital revolution of travel experience. We look forward to seamlessly connecting every segment of the journey and improving everyone’s traveling experience through more collaborative innovation with the Booking brands on product, technology and market development.”

Todd Henrich, SVP & head of corporate development, Booking Holdings, said: “Didi has clear advantages in technology and scale in the shared mobility industry. We believe that together we can offer smarter transportation services to our brands’ customers, and help Didi’s customers with seamless access to the products and services the brands in our company provide throughout the world.”

Commenting on the deal at the group’s third-quarter earnings call, Booking president & CEO Glenn Fogel said: “We invested in [group-buying website] Meituan, and we recently made an investment in Didi. By making these investments, we are getting different ways to reach the Chinese tourists, so that we can show them all the great things that we offer to them. So when they want to travel, we’ve got what they need.”

In 2016 Didi became the largest ride-hailing platform in China after it ended a prolonged battle for supremacy in the country by acquiring Uber’s China unit, in return for Uber getting a 17.7% stake in Didi.

Travis Kalanick, co-founder, Uber, said at the time: “As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that being successful is about listening to your head as well as following your heart. Uber and Didi Chuxing are investing billions of dollars in China and both companies have yet to turn a profit there. Getting to profitability is the only way to build a sustainable business that can best serve Chinese riders, drivers and cities over the long term.”

Now Didi is competing with Uber on its home turf and current speculation suggests a larger merger may be imminent.

HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: How far up the customer’s funnel you can get is the current obsession of most of the suppliers out there and jolly revolting it is too. But it certainly makes sense. For too long travel has come at us in blocks – the getting there block, the staying there block and the what-you-get-up-to-there block.

One only has to be at a conference for 20, 25 seconds to hear about the need to eradicate friction in the funnel and I’m sure we can all agree how important it is to have a smooth ride. For hotel operators, removing the friction so far largely means experimenting with mobile keys and self-checkin, this reducing the chance that you will first see your room while in the height of a murderous rage.

But others are going further, realising that the experience starts when you leave your front door. Rebundling where for so long the customer has been taught to save by bundling themselves up can be successfully achieved if it’s shown to add convenience, but without adding too much cost. And if the customer likes a funnel once, they’ll dive down it again.

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