-by Thomas Rasmussen
The past year has seen a surge in online travel deals as well as venture funding of travel startups. In fact, we wonder if the industry hasn’t gotten a little too crowded. A number of startups have received funding, including Uptake, which was founded by ex-Yahoo Travel execs. Uptake brings the social aspect to the online travel world by aggregating user-generated reviews from various portals. It fetched $10m in venture funding from Trinity Ventures and Shasta Ventures last week, bringing its total raised to $14m. The company says the funds are to be used for internal expansion and acquisitions. Indeed, the current competitive landscape has presented startups like Uptake as well as established players like Expedia with one choice: grow or risk becoming irrelevant.
Against this backdrop, online travel companies have taken different approaches to M&A. Relative newcomer Kayak.com is one company that recently took a major step to buy growth. Hoping to go public eventually, the company doubled its size overnight by acquiring competitor SideStep Inc for an estimated $180m in December. Meanwhile, fellow startup Farecast worked on the other side of a transaction, opting for a sale to Microsoft in April for an estimated $115m to help Redmond shore up its ailing MSN Travel division. Meanwhile, the giant of the industry, Expedia, has been ratcheting up the M&A pace. Of the 15 acquisitions it has done, 11 were inked in the last 18 months. In a recent filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Expedia said it spent $180m on five acquisitions in the first two quarters alone.
As for Uptake, we expect the small company to consider a few tuck-in acquisitions of smaller rivals to add more voices to its reviews. Potential targets include companies such as TravelMuse and TripSay, which also offer user reviews. However, while Uptake is eyeing targets, we have a feeling it may be a target itself. We suspect the social aggregation aspect of Uptake is very appealing to larger players that are trying to bring the social Web 2.0 experience to online travel. Likely acquirers include Kayak and Microsoft, which both lack a social rating system. Expedia and Yahoo Travel, an outfit Uptake’s founders know well, might also want the technology to improve on their own systems.
Number of known strategic online travel deals
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase