MakeMyTrip has ended the year as an even more dominant player in the Indian online travel market after its merger with Ibibo Group.
The announcement in October created a business which, across its portfolio, will create a "one-stop-shop for all Indian travellers".
Combining MakeMyTrip's brand awareness and presence with Ibibo's tech makes sense to both parties. Their combined mobile prowess is critical in a market where, according to estimates, there will be more than 700 million smartphone users in India by 2020.
Demographics are also working in their favour, as India's population is much younger than China or the US - in 2015 47% of Indians were under the age of 25 compared with 23% in China and 22% in the US. India's economy is tipped to grow 8% a year until 2025, a higher compound annual growth rate than China (7%) and the US (4%)
But the macro trends above apply to all online travel sellers, not just MakeMyTrip and Ibibo. So why is their merger pivotal in a market which is still years away from ecommerce (or more accurately mcommerce) maturity?
The stage was set for the merger during the first few weeks of 2016 when China's Ctrip invested $180 million in MakeMyTrip. On subsequent earnings calls MakeMyTrip bosses acknowledged that Ctrip was telling it about the importance of "brand, technology, customer service and supply."
Whether or not Ctrip specifically said "find your nearest rival with the best tech and merge with it" will never be known but Ctrip's roadmap for Chinese dominance could easily work in India.
Ctrip has ruthlessly exploited its position of strength - systematically buying stakes in many of its competitors, usually as part of a strategic co-operation, giving it a first-hand insight into its rivals' operational and financial strengths and weaknesses.
Its dominance of hotels in particular started in early 2014 when it took a stake in ly.com, the number 4 hotel booking site in China at the time. This put pressure on the number three player, eLong, allowing Ctrip to lead a consortium which bought out Expedia Inc's stake prompting Expedia to rethink its approach to China.
To complete the set, Ctrip then took over its closest competitor Qunar.
Ctrip's dominance of the consumer space gives it even more impetus when talking to suppliers. It no longer has to offer discounts or coupons to attract customers because, across its brands it already has access to customers.
But if it does want to attract new customers with discounts - such as its desire to access travellers in third and fourth tier cities - it has the scale to be able to negotiate deals with suppliers. No-one is likely to say no when Ctrip comes knocking.
MakeMyTrip and Ibibo have a similar position of strength to Ctrip. MakeMyTrip never shied away from telling the markets that building market share was its priority. It can reference Page One of the Ctrip handbook for this - being the biggest is the best way to negotiate better deals with suppliers and to achieve economies of scale across marketing and technology.
Paying handsomely to acquire customers - either via discounts, new user incentives or expensive TV ad campaigns - is a worthwhile investment if you have the content, the tech, the service and, yes, the budget, to retain them.
A related topic for discussion between Ctrip and MakeMyTrip - in terms of finances rather than operations - is the importance of having committed and deep-pocketed investors. Naspers is a big South African media and ecommerce conglomerate which pumped $250 million into Ibibo this May (together with Chinese internet giant Tencent) and ended up with a 40% stake in the combined MakeMyTrip/Ibibo business. Ctrip owns 10% of the new business.
At some stage MakeMyTrip/Ibibo will have to make a profit but for now it seems as if it can focus on growth and customer acquisition.
So there are two ways in which the deal can go - MakeMyTrip and Ibibo will go on a Ctrip-esque acquisition spree, buying up and taking out competitors in order to firm up thier market leadership, or the pair will focus on building up the portfolio of brands they already have.
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but MakeMyTrip/Ibibo is one to watch over the next twelve months and beyond.
Related reading from Tnooz:
MakeMyTrip sees Ibibo as key to capturing offline-to-online shift (Nov16)
MakeMyTrip merges with Ibibo Group to create Indian giant with Chinese flavour (Oct16)