Indian online travel agency giant Make My Trip says it has cash to spend on investing and nurturing startups.
The so-called Innovation Fund will total $15 million and targeted at “mobile and IP-based” companies.
CEO Deep Kalra says the investment wallet equates to around 10% of cash on its balance sheet.
The company was one of the businesses presenting at Deutsche Bank’s Technology Conference in Las Vegas this week, a session which also covered its perspective on mobile services (its Android app is more popular than Apple, for example) and how it believes online bookings for hotels have only scratched the surface.
Observations of a local, regional and global perspective were also shared in the 30 minute presentation, which can be accessed online.
“240 million people are online in India, of which 180 million access the web through mobile. Smartphone shipments are nearing 100m a year.
“At MakeMyTrip, 30% of our traffic and about 15% of our transactions is through mobile. There is a lag effect with transactions because payment is clunky and people complete their transaction on a desk-top having started their research and done a lot of work on mobile.
“Of that 30% mobile, we think that 50/60% of those people are mobile only. Of the 15% who transact, 40% of them are mobile only.
“We have mobile internet and apps, but we suspect the app world will become more popular. We have 3.3m app downloads across different platforms. Android is the most popular, IOS next and we are seeing acceptable levels of conversion.
“Our philosophy is that it makes no sense just to incentivise users to download the app – it is more effective to incentivise them to make their first booking on the app. People who experience the product are more likely to become repeat users.
“India has 25,000-30,000 hotels, up to half a million rooms, which isn’t very much but it is growing. If you look at the total market which includes budget hotels, 6-7% of bookings are online – some research suggests that for three-, four-, five- star chain hotels it is in the mid-teens – but it is the total market which is important, of which we have 2.5%.
“It is very early days. Its less about market share than about how to get the hotel buying and booking habit to move online.
“The market is skewed towards independent hotels, 80% of the market is independent, which is great for OTAs as we can add value, as we have seen in Europe.
“Multinational are looking more seriously at India. Expedia has been investing heavily for five years but in terms of traffic it’s only number five. Booking.com and Agoda have been focusing on India from an inbound perspective but are getting more serious.
“What we predict is that there will be some consolidation over the next few years. It’s not a big enough market for seven OTAs – four Indian, three multinations – to make money in. It’s probably a three-player market long-term.
Mergers and acquisitions
[MakeMyTrip officially announced its Innovation Fund a couple of days after the Las Vegas crowd heard about it. Click here to see the launch release]
“A lot of the new, interesting and exciting ides are coming from start-ups, focused on mobile, creating very specific solution. Uber is an good example of how a business with a sharp focus on one thing can explode.
“We think there is a need for a trip-planning app, an Indian version of TripAdvisor for Indians to travel inside India and outside. Indian travellers have specific needs around food, hotels, shopping. There’s a play for that on the mobile side, and we are scouting, we are looking.
“We recently agreed that $15 million or 10% of the cash on our balance sheet be focused on new and young ventures in the travel technology space for our market.
“We are purposefully going out and looking to take an early stage position in some of these companies which help solve a particular problem faced by consumers today.
“It’s an exciting way to hedge some of the M&A bets we’re taking.
“There’s a lot of focus by India’s new government, included in their manifesto, on both technology and tourism. We sit at the intersection of both, so these are exiting times.
NB: Deep Kalra, founder and CEO, led the discussions, and answered most of the questions. He was assisted by two colleagues when appropriate. However, neither of the colleagues was introduced by the moderator (at least not audibly on the web cast) so the comments have not been attributed directly to any one individual.
NB2: Startup growth image via Shutterstock.
NB3: Disclosure – Tnooz chairman Fred Lalonde is a board director at MakeMyTrip.