GrabTaxi Raises $65 million To Increase The Competition With Uber In Southeast Asia

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the taxi app war is exclusively a US phenomenon, such is the fierce battle between Uber and Lyft, but similar rivalries are actually ongoing across other parts of the world. The battle is heating up in Southeast Asia today, after GrabTaxi — a Malaysia-headquarted company that is active in six countries — announced a $65 million investment round that it hopes will enable it to defeat Uber in Southeast Asia.

The company has been busy raising funding this year. This round is the third investment it has announced since April. Though undisclosed, GrabTaxi says it takes it to “approximately $90 million” in funding this year. Given that it raised around $10 million in April, and a further $15 million in May, this Series C round is around $65 million.

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Moving Beyond Same-Day Bookings, HotelTonight Launches Its 7-Day Reservation System

HotelTonight is moving beyond the same-day hotel bookings that it’s known for.

TechCrunch’s Jordan Crook reported earlier this week that this move was in the works, but HotelTonight is confirming the news, and the updated apps offering hotel booking up to seven days in advance are scheduled to go live … now.

Co-founder and CEO Sam Shank told me that HotelTonight is expanding its model “from a position of strength,” with the existing business already profitable on-track to be profitable and growing 100 percent year-over-year. At the same time, he said this is a natural way “to bring the HotelTonight approach to hotel booking to more people and more times.”

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Roomlia Takes On HotelTonight With Mobile Hotel Reservations App

Today Roomlia has launched into the App Store to provide the fastest hotel booking on mobile.

Started by two former Expedia employees, Michael Reichartz and Jim Ferguson, Roomlia offers discounted hotel rooms up to seven days in advance with only a few clicks to complete booking. Unlike Expedia and its counterparts, Roomlia links you directly with your chosen hotel the moment you book, as opposed to negotiating rates and payments through the hotel site and the hotel itself.

Roomlia links directly with hotels’ operations systems to make sure that the experience is super quick and painless. When you first log in, you’re given an extensive list of cities. You can choose one, or search for one that isn’t on the list, and you’re immediately shown a list of hotels with pictures, ratings, and average prices.

Certain hotel rooms have extra deep discounts, which is displayed with a red flag on the listing. These only last a limited time.

Users can put in their hotel dates on the bottom using a calendar or a slider to show the number of nights desired. Roomlia users have the opportunity to book a stay as long as five nights.

HotelTonight, on the other hand, only gets you discounts on the day of booking.

Once you choose a hotel, you can simply swipe to the left to book, sending you directly into contact with the hotel to complete booking. Everything is done in two taps.

On the hotel side, hotels will be able to handle their inventory and minimize vacancy with greater lead times than traditional last-minute services.

The hospitality industry is aflutter with new technology, with smaller players coming in to streamline back-end operations, and bigger guys launching interesting tech initiatives to keep competitive. For example, Starwood launched a robotic butler, while Hilton Hotels has a new app that allows you to choose your room and check out without speaking to another human.

Roomlia launches today on the App Store with access to over 250 hotels and growing.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

China’s budget-minded Airbnb clone gets $15 million in funding

China Xiaozhu site like Airbnb

One of China’s top Airbnb-like sites, Xiaozhu, has secured US$15 million in series B funding to help it grow. It comes nearly 18 months after its series A round, which was worth nearly US$10 million.

Xiaozhu (meaning “little piggy” in Chinese) claims to have 2.6 million rooms listed in about 160 cities across China. That’s up from coverage of just 13 cities when we last wrote about the site in January 2013. It seems to focus on the low end of the travel market, with a number of cheap places featuring very basic rooms and even dorm-style bunk beds.

The lack of nice homes – what you’d think of as holiday homes – on the site might point to a broader issue with short-term rentals in China: a lack of trust on the part of landlords.

The homegrown market leader for short-term travel rentals in China is Tujia, which first got series A funding way back in early 2012 and then series B a year later. Tujia seems to be doing much better at attracting owners of quality homes onto the service, and most of the listed properties are mid to high-end.

Xiaozhu is also up against the equally wacky named Mayi (meaning “ants” in Chinese), which also goes for the low end of the market.

Xiaozhu’s newest funding is from Legend Capital and existing investor Morningside Ventures.

-Courtesy: Techinasia

The Top 10 Summer Vacation Destinations for 2014

Let’s face it: Starting a company and growing it into something awesome takes a lot of work. And a lot of work usually requires a lot of time. And when you work really hard all the time, well, there’s a point where you’re most likely going to break down.

If this sounds anything like your current situation, now might be the perfect time to consider a serious summer vacation. Leave your company and other duties in the hands of someone you trust and get away. Relax. Recharge. Come back with renewed passion, energy and perspective.

Turns out, U.S. and international leisure travel are both expected to be up this year compared to 2013, according to a recent survey from popular travel website TripAdvisor and research firm Ipsos. Seventy-seven percent of people said they planned to travel internationally for pleasure this year, up 12 percent from 2013’s 65 percent. Meanwhile, 90 percent said they plan to travel within the U.S., compared to 87 percent last year.

For those considering a domestic U.S. summer vacation, the harsh winter has inspired many travelers to pack their bags and hit the road. Eighteen percent cited the Polar Vortex as a reason to get out of town this summer, according to TripAdvisor’s annual summer travel surveyof more than 2,500 U.S. respondents. And despite higher gas prices, 36 percent of respondents plan to spend more money on their leisure summer travel in 2014 than last year.

From beaches to cities to national parks, here are the top 10 U.S. summer destinations, according to TripAdvisor:

1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
2. Las Vegas, Nevada
3. New York City, New York
4. Destin, Florida
5. Ocean City, Maryland
6. Orlando, Florida
7. Virginia Beach, Virginia
8. San Francisco, California
9. San Diego, California
10. Key West, Florida

If you’re among those inclined for a little more adventure, you might consider the global results of TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Destinations awards. TripAdvisor says the top destination winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the “quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, attractions and restaurants in destinations worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period.” While this survey wasn’t pegged specifically to summer travel, it could give interested vacationers some ideas.

The top 10 destinations among world travelers for 2014 are (+/- denotes change in ranking year-over-year):

1. Istanbul, Turkey (+11)
2. Rome, Italy (+2)
3. London, England (0)
4. Beijing, China (+17)
5. Prague, Czech Republic (+4)
6. Marrakech, Morocco (+13)
7. Paris, France (-6)
8. Hanoi, Vietnam (New)
9. Siem Reap, Cambodia (+14)
10. Shanghai, China (+12)

Where are you planning to head off to for a much-needed vacation this summer?


China’s mobile travel bookings up more than 400% in the last year

qunar smartphone plane

Chinese online travel booking service Qunar (NASDAQ:QUNR) made RMB 336 million (US$54 million) in revenue during the first quarter of this year, up 83.6 percent over the same period last year, according to its latest earnings report for Q1 2014. The figure far surpassed the company’s 65 to 70 percent guidance.

Mobile revenues were a huge boost to the numbers, up 415 percent year-on-year and representing nearly 32 percent of total revenues, compared to just 11.3 percent in Q1 2013. Qunar reports over 60 million mobile users from January to March.

Ctrip (NASDAQ:CTRP) remains the biggest player in China’s online travel industry. The company earlier this month reported RMB 1.6 billion (US$254.5 million) in revenue, up 36.3 percent year-on-year. During that quarter, over 70 percent of its total transactions were booked through online and mobile channels, also up by over 400 percent.

Tech in Asia spoke to Qunar CEO Chenchao (a.k.a. CC) Zhuang about the fast-changing online travel industry. He explains customers booking flights on mobile share the same use case as their web-based counterparts, but those booking hotels are more inclined to use the mobile app for last-minute bookings.

Travel domestically alone, internationally in flocks

Qunar’s latest earnings report also comments on the shift from packaged group tours to DIY travel. Younger Chinese travelers tend to prefer the latter, opting out of the tightly-scheduled and pre-planned trips that are popular with their parents. Zhuang says, based on Qunar’s information, domestic travel for the younger generation is almost entirely DIY these days. International travel to Southeast Asia is moving toward DIY, but bookings to Europe, the US, and Australia are still largely group-centric. Zhuang says, “Group travel for international travel still has time and space to grow.”

When we spoke to Hans Tung of GGV Capital – one of Qunar’s investors – on the sidelines of Stanford University’s China 2.0 forum last month, he mentioned Qunar would not remain a Chinese company. When we asked Zhuang about the possibility of international expansion, he replied, “”We do have an international presence, but not on a large scale. We are currently focused on domestic growth and we are going to do more on the international part.”

-Courtesy: Techinasia

Like Airbnb, Birchbox Jumps to TV with First Commercial

This week, luxury beauty-subscription service Birchbox rolled out their its first ever television commercial, with the tag line “Open for Beautiful.” 

The TV spot will begin airing nationally in May — including in markets like New York, Atlanta and Chicago. True to form for a company whose mission is focused on personalization, on Birchbox’s revamped website customers can also shop for the products and looks featured in the ad. 

This move marks another step the digital company is taking to continue to raise its profile and grow its business. Earlier this spring, founders Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp also revealed plans to open their first physical retail store in New York City.

But Birchbox isn’t the only digitally-minded startup on the rise that’s taken to more traditional means of getting the word out. Self-described “community-hospitality company,” Airbnb which released its first TV commercial last year, which featured six-second Vine videos in a four-minute spot.

The startup is again taking to the airwaves with its global campaign called “Views,” which includes a 60-second spot that will be shown not only online but in movie theaters (AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas) in the U.S. and U.K. and on JetBlue Airways and Frontier Airlines

Looking to take on HotelTonight, Airbnb also announced the launch of two new features this week, meant to help the spur-of-the-moment travelers looking for immediate accommodations or planning a weekend away. One is a list of places that are immediately available (shown on mobile devices), and the other is for weekend getawaysThe services will initially only be available in the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets but will launch in other cities soon.