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Skyscanner acquired by Chinese travel giant Ctrip in a £1.4 billion deal

Steve Vance
Gareth Williams, CEO, Skyscanner (Source: Skyscanner)

Edinburgh-based travel search company Skyscanner has been acquired by Chinese travel giant Ctrip in a £1.4 billion deal.

Ctrip, a Chinese online travel agent, claims two thirds share of the market in China. Headquartered in Shanghai, it was founded in 1999 and began life as a review site, then branched to hotel business and across the travel funnel. It was listed on NASDAQ in 2003 and has 32,000 employees, most of whom are based in China. In 2015, the company generated total sales of $50 billion.

This represents the next step in Skyscanner’s journey. We’ve reached market leader status and this news with Ctrip propels us forward and allows us to take the business to the next level.

Gareth Williams, chief executive, Skyscanner

Skyscanner employs 800 people in 10 offices across the world and has around 60m monthly unique visitors. They employ over 50 nationalities and are available in over 30 languages, while the app has been downloaded 50m times.

In the words of their chief executive Gareth Williams: "This represents the next step in Skyscanner’s journey. We’ve reached market leader status and this news with Ctrip propels us forward and allows us to take the business to the next level."

"The support of Ctrip, one of the giants of the online travel agency world, will allow us to extend our already substantial reach globally, as well as augment our understanding of the Chinese market where we saw a 67% increase in visitors in 2015 and 78% year-on-year revenue growth in September." adds Williams

Edinburgh-based travel website Skyscanner is one of Scotland’s ‘unicorns’ – tech start-ups valued at more than $1 billion – and the company has grown exponentially since it was set up in 2003.

Having experienced seven consecutive years of double digit growth and this year welcomed £128m investment; the global travel search website is now firmly placed to accelerate its global growth even further.

“Last year’s revenue was £120m and we saw a 48% increase in year-on-year unique monthly visitors, as well as a 60% increase in mobile visitors.” explains chief executive, Gareth Williams.

“We’ve seen 48% growth in the Asia-Pacific region, 67% growth in China and 55% growth in the Americas.”

Flight search concept takes off

It all began when Williams, a software engineer, started the travel search engine as a DIY tool to find flights to visit his brother who was working as a ski instructor in the French Alps.

“At that time the budget airlines were becoming established but there was no single place I could go to figure out the best flight from any one of five London airports to any one of about five airports around the ski resorts in the Alps,” Williams says.

He identified a clear consumer need for something that made the process a whole lot easier.

“All the flight options for your journey, in one place, easily filtered for time, price and much more. So I decided to build a tool for myself. That tool worked, so I showed it to my two friends and said: ‘How about we create a business around this?’”

Gareth Williams, chief executive, Skyscanner:

We did at one point consider whether we should move to somewhere like Silicon Valley, but the tech scene in Edinburgh is hugely supportive and is going from strength to strength. People are really sitting up and taking notice of Edinburgh as a tech hub."

When it was launched online, Skyscanner literally took off, and has since expanded from flights into hotels, car hire and a business-to-business offering that powers travel search for well-known brands across the world, including MSN and Lonely Planet.

“As an international company, we’re a team of over 50 nationalities, which helps ensure our products are localised in each market we work in. Ensuring staff love what they do and love Skyscanner as a place to work is really important to us, and me personally.” adds Williams.

The firm’s highly-rated free mobile apps have been downloaded over 40 million times and their products are available in over 30 languages and 70 currencies.

Talent on tap

“Much of our young talent locally comes from Scotland’s universities, which provide a fantastic recruitment ground for us,” Williams says. “We offer interesting, challenging work in a fast-paced business where employees have a sense of ownership and flexibility – and as a former coder myself, I know the biggest appeal is the excitement of an interesting technical challenge.”

Originally from Norwich, Williams moved to Edinburgh 14 years ago and says the city is now very much his home.

“It’s a compact city that has so much to offer, from plentiful green space to thriving businesses and a never-ending roster of world-renowned festivals and events. And lots of fellow software engineers.”

Thriving tech scene

The support of Edinburgh’s start-up and investment community has been hugely important in Skyscanner’s growth.

“We did at one point consider whether we should move to somewhere like Silicon Valley,” Williams explains. “But the tech scene in Edinburgh is hugely supportive these days and is going from strength to strength. People are really sitting up and taking notice of Edinburgh as a tech hub. I believe this is a key strength for us all.

“Our first venture capital funding was local too, from Scottish Equity Partners in 2008. So we consider ourselves very lucky to call Edinburgh our home and headquarters.”

The ambition is to continue Skyscanner’s growth across the world.

“Skyscanner is always looking to offer our users fresh, innovative and engaging new ways to search for their travel. As an example, we recently launched a chat bot application with Facebook and a collaborative travel bot with Skype. These allow users to interact with the bot to ask for live travel search information.

“There is a huge amount of opportunity in the sector and we’re really excited about the future.”

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