Ctrip has confirmed a strategic co-operation agreement with Travelling Bestone, a Chinese travel agency chain with more than 5,000 outlets.
The exact scale and nature of Ctrip's investment has not been disclosed, although some Chinese financial outlets are reporting that it has taken a controlling stake in the business.
Qunar, the OTA which Ctrip took over last year, invested in Bestone at the end of 2014.
Bestone's portfolio is particularly strong in second and third tier Chinese cities. It also has a web presence at www.517best.com.
Ctrip's confirmed agreement with Bestone comes a week or so after a confused and complicated rumour about another big OTA securing an offline presence. In this case Toncheng, which operates www.ly.com, struck a deal with the tourism unit of conglomerate Wanda Group, a Fortune 500 company.
Requests for clarification from both remain unanswered. But one constant in the varied coverage of the deal was that Tongcheng is getting its hand on a dozen high street travel agencies which formed part of the Wanda Tourism unit
These agencies are in major cities.
Ctrip's move (and the Tongcheng/Wanda tie-up) synchs with the 020 (online to offline) trend in China's e-commerce space. Online companies in many verticals are now looking at ways to connect their digital platform with an offline presence, in a supercharged Chinese version of click and collect.
On its most recent earnings call, Ctrip CEO James Liang told analysts that it was looking to get more business from smaller (relatively) cities, thinking along the lines of helping new users to make a small travel purchase would reap the rewards in the long run, even if margins in the near-term are not great.
Ctrip, as ever, clearly has its eye on the long game.
Related reading from Tnooz:
The year-old heavyweight-backed startup that hasn’t got started (June 2016)
Ctrip Group lifts GMV 2020 projection to around $200 billion (March 2016)