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?

-Courtesy: Entrepreneur.com

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.

-Courtesy: Entrepreneur.com

Need a vacation idea? This new app includes all you need to plan a trip to North Korea

North Korea Travel - Android Apps on Google Play (1)

Tourism isn’t typically the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of North Korea. The country is widely associated with negative media coverage regarding its leadership and struggling people.

But the Democratic People’s Republic does indeed have a budding tourism industry for curious travelers, and a new app released today for iOS and Android might well be the most comprehensive guide yet.

North Korea Travel claims to show “just how much of North Korea is open to foreigners.” It includes information and photos of over 350 destinations, and also clues users in on where they can’t go. It also has sections on history, culture, travel etiquette, and a phrasebook. And because wireless connectivity is limited within the DPRK, content can be pre-downloaded for offline use. The app even includes a price comparison function so you can find the best deals from travel agencies to plan a tour on a budget. For now, it only comes in English.

North Korea Travel

This isn’t some elaborate propaganda piece by the Hermit Kingdom’s government (as far as we know). The guides were written by a Brit with “over ten years’ experience working in North Korea.” Map information was compiled by Curtis Melvin, a North Korea expert who manages a database of the country’s most extensive Google Earth imagery.

North Korea Travel was developed by Magora Systems and UniquelyTravel. The latter also plans to make similar apps for Iran, Burma, and Libya.

While the app certainly makes North Korean tourism seem more accessible, some question the ethics of supporting the DPRK through tourism dollars because of its combative regime and long list of human rights abuses. Others argue the influx of foreigners – however limited – will have a positive influence.

North Korea Travel is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play for US$0.99.

-Courtesy: Techinasia

China’s Ctrip invests over $200 million in an online ticketing site

ly-china

Ctrip, one of the largest online travel agencies in China, has invested over $200 million in local attraction online ticketing site LY.com.

LY.com allows users to search for places of interest at the local and city levels. For example, if you are interested in visiting zoos or gardens around Suzhou, LY.com pinpoints the right spots within a few clicks. Every place of interest comes with user reviews. If users are satisfied with the reviews, they can purchase tickets directly on the site. Ctrip CEO James Liang said in the statement:

LY.com is the leading player in the local attraction ticket segment and we will support the independent operation of LY.com. We are excited to work with LY.com’s team to create greater value for travelers and help the healthy development of the industry.

In recent years, Ctrip has made multiple investments and acquisitions in travel related startups including YongChe, Economy Hotel Manager,and Kuxun. Its biggest competitors are the recently IPO-ed Qunar (owned by Baidu) and eLong (majority owned by Expedia).

-Courtesy: Techinasia

Wary of regulatory hurdles, Uber is registered as a travel agency in Japan

UberJapanBlack

Tak Shiohama, president of Uber Japan, led a well-attended talk at the 9th Samurai Venture Summit this past weekend. At the event, organized by Samurai Incubate and held in Microsoft’s Tokyo office, Shiohama gave some insight into how Uber Japan avoided regulatory fights, modified the service for the Japan market, and how Uber might expand outside of Tokyo. Uber arrived in Tokyo last November and has been working to expand its market share ever since.

During the question-and-answer session, Shiohama revealed how Uber Japan managed to avoid some of the regulatory battles that have plagued its launches in other countries. “Generally speaking, prior to launching, Uber examines the local regulations very thoroughly to determine if there is a problem or not, after careful talks with the local government,” he said (translation ours). In America, this has resulted in Uber filing with the SEC as a non-specific “Other Technology” company. For Japan, however, Shiohama stated, “After talking with various government agencies in Japan it was determined that we could offer the service…in fact, in Japan we are registered as a travel agency. And as a travel agency we provide car service to customers who hire us.”

Regarding potential further expansion outside of Tokyo, Shiohama said, “While America is getting ready to expand into cities with populations of only 200,000 to 300,000…for the Japan countryside, although the need [for Uber] might exist, the key question is not whether or not there is need but whether or not local conditions can support our service platform.”

Uber is sure to face some stiff competition in Tokyo. Local taxi services are similarly priced and have long been celebrated for their top-notch service. However, if Uber adds Tokyo to its list of success stories, then citizens in Japan’s other metropolises will have something to look forward to in the near future.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Social Seating Can Lead to Business Opportunities on Dutch Airline

Klmklm

KLM’s social seating service lets passengers pick who they’re going to sit next to before they even get to the airport.

The Boeing could be the new board room.

Business travelers have found a new way to make valuable connections thanks to KLM Royal Dutch Airline’s social seating service Meet & Seat, which was launched in 2012 to introduce passengers with similar interests via social media. Over the past two years the company has found that approximately half of those customers are using it for professional networking, according to a KLM spokesperson.

Travelers can opt to pick who they sit next to based on details from their Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ profiles after they purchase a ticket. You might choose a seat mate simply because of a shared interest, but a similar job title could put you near a potential business contact. If you get cold feed (or just want to snag that row of empty seats) you can change your mind up to an hour before your flight.

“Meet & Seat has been welcomed as a fantastic, innovative new service,” Martijn van der Zee, Air France-KLM’s senior vice president of e-commerce, told Mashable. “People respond with curiosity and enthusiasm and are positive across the board.”

More than 50,000 people have chosen to use Meet & Seat since the service was introduced, according to a KLM spokesperson. This isn’t too large a number in the scheme of things, however, since more than 52 million passengers flew with the airline in the past two years, according to KLM’s 2013 annual report. Meet & Seat is most popular on routes to and from Brazil, perhaps attributed to the fact that of KLM’s approximately 5 million Facebook users, about 1 million of them are from Brazil and 62% of the service’s users connect with Facebook, according to the spokesperson.

When the service first launched in February 2012 it was only available on flights out of Amsterdam going to San Francisco, New York and São Paulo, according to a press release. A month later it was offered to passengers going to 10 more destinations, based on the fact that a majority were using it to network, KLM said in a second release. It has since been rolled out on all of the airline’s flights going to and coming from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

Not everyone is embracing social seating. Ben Hammersley, a frequent traveler based in London who often flies KLM, believes the Meet & Seat service could be useful for bringing people with similar interests together — forming a knitting group, for example — but is turned off by the idea of doing business at 35,000 feet.

“You’d have to drown yourself in gin before the end of the flight,” he told Mashable. “In my job you just spend the entire time being pitched at or dealing with people who are constantly on. Planes are a refuge from that.”

Hammersley also expressed concern that the service could create an awkward social dynamic if someone rejects a potential seat mate or if it leads to an unwanted match.

Delta began a more specialized project called Innovation Class last month. Passengers can apply via LinkedIn to be seated next to industry leaders to connect with someone they most likely would not have access to otherwise. The inaugural flight on Mar. 14 paired Eric Migicovsky, creator of the Pebble Smartwatch, with James Patten, a designer and artist who runs an interactive design studio in Brooklyn, on the way to the 2014 TED Conference in Vancouver.

“It’s very rare to get a chance to sit down with someone in that sort of position and talk about whatever you want,” Patten said in a Delta video. “Had we met in another context we probably would have had at most a five-minute conversation.

SeatID uses a concept called “social proofing,” based on the idea that if people associate familiar faces with something they’re thinking about purchasing, they’ll be more likely to take the leap. The company partners with businesses, allowing organizations such as airlines, hotels and theaters to provide users with the ability to see if anyone in their social circle has, for example, taken the same flight they are thinking of booking. SeatID currently works with 150 companies, including three airlines.

Satisfly places airline passengers next to each other based on information gleaned from social media, and asking if they prefer a quiet or social flight. Malaysia airlines tried its own version of a social seating service called MHBuddy which launched in 2011. The Facebook app let passengers share upcoming trips with friends and choose seats next to them if they’re on the same flight.

“We’re adding another dimension to the decision making process and that is social,” SeatID co-founder Eran Savir told Mashable. “I think an airplane has a unique atmosphere around it. It’s a unique opportunity to network with someone.”

-Courtesy: Mashable.com

Airbnb Has Closed Its $500M Round Of Funding At A $10B Valuation, Led By TPG

TechCrunch has learned that Airbnb, the fast-growing site that lets people become hoteliers by renting out sofas, rooms or entire private homes, has now closed its latest round of funding: $500 million, led by private equity firm TPG, at a $10 billion valuation, according to our sources. This brings the total raised by Airbnb to $826 million.

Negotiations around the funding were previously reported by the Wall Street Journal, which reported that TPG and Dragoneer Investment Group were leading the round, and that mutual funds including T. Rowe Price were also involved. Update: WSJ is reporting that it’s a $450 million round, same valuation, with Dragoneer, Sequoia and T. Rowe Price also named as investors.

We understand from sources that Allen & Co. — known for its recent work advising Facebook on its $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp, working on Twitter’s IPO, and helping Dropbox with its latest, $350 million round — has been helping to orchestrate this round for Airbnb.

The deal is an interesting one for TPG. Its TPG Growth division is a key investor in Uber, another startup innovating at “the edge of the forest” (Yammer’s David Sacks’ description of the group of companies applying tech to disrupt non-technical fields). Through TPG Capital, it has extensive holdings in the property and travel markets already, specifically through itsownership of RentPath; and part-ownership of Sabre/Travelocity.

It’s not clear how and if any of TPG’s holdings will come into play in relation to Airbnb, but it’s tempting to think of how they could.

Airbnb’s previous, $326 million of backing came from a fairly large pool of investors: Y-Combinator (where it was incubated in 2009), Sequoia Capital, Youniversity Ventures, Greylock Partners, SV Angel, Keith Rabois, Elad Gil, Jeremy Stoppelman, Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst Partners, Jeff Bezos, Digital Sky Technologies, CrunchFund (run by Michael Arrington, who founded TechCrunch), Ashton Kutcher, Eniac Ventures and Founders Fund.

We understand that some past investors are also part of this latest round.

Since opening for business five years ago, Airbnb has taken the travel accommodation industry by storm. Effectively, it created and now dominates a new market segment — private homeowners use its cloud-based platform to list and collect payments for their rooms and houses, with mobile apps and social integrations all greasing the wheels of the Airbnb machine.

Airbnb now has over 600,000 listings across nearly 200 countries. The WSJ reported earlier this month that revenues in 2013 were about $250 million, more than double what it made the year before. Like Uber and other companies that have disrupted older and more established industries, that rapid growth has drawn a lot of heat from incumbent competitors — in Airbnb’s case from the hotel industry — which have been played out onlegal and regulatory fronts in different cities.

Airbnb is not always fast to reveal what it is doing on the fundraising front. A $250 million round led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, which Airbnb raised in 2012, was only disclosed publicly in 2013 (at TC Disrupt in Berlin, as it happened). In other words, it isn’t clear when the company when the company will announce this round, either.

What it will mean is that Airbnb, now at a $10 billion valuation, may be less quick to run for the public markets. That’s perhaps a sign of the times, with many pointing to an impending “closing” of the IPO window for tech companies, evidenced by a trend among listing companies pricing their offerings below their expected ranges.

The WSJ and Re/Code are reporting the total raise to be $450 million instead of the $500 million we’ve heard. While we’re not sure of the exact reason for the reporting discrepancy, the last time we broke funding news like this, with an overage in raise amount, was Snapchat. In Snapchat’s case, the missing $20 million in other outlets’ coverage was due to a secondary sale of stock by the founders, which we had included in our total.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

 

Airbnb Says It Will Start Collecting Hotel Taxes In San Francisco

Airbnb said it will start collecting San Francisco’s 14 percent hotel tax on behalf of hosts today. The move counters critics who’ve claimed that the company has willfully dodged taxes to get ahead of traditional competitors in the hotel industry.

But as Airbnb has grown up and is now poised to command a possible $10 billion valuation from private investors, they’ve said they want to play by city rules.

David Hantman, Airbnb’s Head of Global Public Policy, wrote today:

“We have repeatedly said that we believe our community in San Francisco should pay its fair share of taxes. We know from countless discussions with our hosts that they want to pay taxes, but some of these rules are arcane and difficult to follow. Some hosts have even tried to pay taxes in San Francisco and been turned away.”

The move follows the company’s announcement last week that it had reached a partnership with the city of Portland to pay transient lodging taxes, work with the city’s tourism bureau and offer guests the chance to donate to local causes. The company is hoping that the new initiative, called “Shared Cities,” will get adopted by local governments internationally. Airbnb also said last week that if it were paying hotel taxes in New York, it would be generating about $21 million per year for the city.

San Francisco charges a 14 percent hotel occupancy tax, which may generate $274 million in revenue for the city this year. The taxes would get tacked onto a guest’s bill as an extra charge on top of the nightly rate and Airbnb’s fee.

Before, Airbnb would send out tax forms like 1099s and W-9s for hosts to report their earnings. This, of course, is a lot of extra paperwork and it’s likely that many Airbnb hosts just probably didn’t bother with reporting their earnings from hosting. Airbnb says this hotel tax collection comes on top of taxes on earned income. So yes, hosts still have to do their 1099s.

San Francisco city supervisor David Chiu has been crafting new regulation for short-term stays on platforms like Airbnb for almost two years. The issue is that city regulations have proven politically difficult to update, especially given the tense climate around housing affordability in the city, zoning restrictions and concerns from neighbors. Chiu’s legislation isn’t expected to override lease agreements, meaning that tenants still have to abide by the rules their landlords have established.

 

-Courtesy: Techcrunch