Investors are positioning themselves to take advantage of the proven model of travel metasearch in many of the world’s markets, as witnessed by Ctrip's recent purchase of Skyscanner for $1.7 billion and Trivago's declared plan to go on the public markets.
That trend includes the San Francisco-based Tripping.com, which said Wednesday it has raised $35 million in a fresh round of fundraising by a syndicate of investors, led by investment firm Princeville Global.
Tripping.com helps travelers compare the prices of up to 10 million vacation rental properties worldwide at dozens of suppliers and agencies, such as HomeAway, VRBO, TripAdvisor, and Booking.com. About 3 million of the properties can be booked instantly -- up from nearly none a couple of years ago.
The Series C funding brings the company's total outside investment to $52 million.
“Our goal is to double the size of the team, across product and engineering, in the next year," co-founder Jen O'Neal tells Tnooz. "Until now we focused on building out the back-end tech, and now we want to focus on the product.”
O'Neal also wants to spend more to find new traffic sources and develop wide brand recognition. Until now, he company has relied on direct response. It will try radio, TV, and print, perhaps taking a page out of the Kayak metasearch playbook (as spelled out in the recent book "A Truck Full of Money").
The startup's new head of marketing -- Michael Lattig, the former CMO of StubHub -- has his work cut out for him. Tripping.com was recently dubbed "the largest vacation rental website you've never heard of" by Conde Nast Traveler.
That's a big difference in name recognition and popularity from Airbnb -- which doesn't share content with Tripping.
O'Neal says that Tripping is the market leader in vacation rental metasearch.
"No one else comes close to offering our breadth of price comparison.... If we were launching hotel meta, then I’d be losing sleep about competition. But we're in relatively fantastic position... Keep in mind, instant booking for vacation rentals is basically only about a year old.... This is still early days."
Bumps along the way
Aggregating privately owned properties (which can vary dramatically in quality and ownership integrity) may differ somewhat from aggregating hotels, which tend to be more standardized.
This year, a couple of Tripping.com's "partners" -- Vacasol and Gloveler -- went out of business, but there was a delay in the metasearch site dropping them from its listings.
O'Neal says "those [Vacasol and Gloveler] are very old partners that came on in early days... before we put a very rigorous vetting process in place. I don't know whether they would pass if they had been on-boarded more recently."
A couple of other partners -- 9Flats and Wimdu -- struggled financially this summer and were late in issuing refunds when necessary, but remained listed on Tripping.com.
"While we've seen some vacation rental businesses struggle, we've seen others rise up." She adds, "Since our founding, we’ve never had a single customer service complaint."
The company says that it gets a sense of the health of agencies by tracking how well their sites are converting, among other similar metrics. Looking ahead, it can choose to check up with partners and dim the search prominence of those that seem to be struggling.
Meta, mo betta
The geographic affinity of Tripping.com's backers suggest that it may expand in Asia soon. The lead investor in this round, Princeville Global, is a spin-off from Japanese technology and investment firm Softbank -- which has made investments in travel startups Oyo Rooms and Ola. Princeville Global itself has "played key roles in stewarding the IPOs of Kayak, HomeAway, Qunar, and Alibaba," says O'Neal, who hints that an IPO may be in the offing for Tripping.com, too.
Other backers include Fritz Demopoulos (founder of Qunar in China) and Tokyo-based Recruit Holdings.
O'Neal expects her company's Asian business to eventually eclipse its American and European business.
Investors are apparently not the only ones interested in metasearch. Technologists are, too.
O'Neal says her technology team has undergone "dramatically little" turnover in the past few years, despite the office being in super-competitive Silicon Valley.
She chalks up that high retention rate to having about 80% of her company's hires come through personal networks or employee referrals.
Also good for retention has been the company's support of helping developers and engineers advance their knowledge goals, O'Neal says.
"Company culture isn’t perks like free sushi. It's understanding what your team members are hoping to learn and actively helping them advance in their careers, like by sending them to conferences, etc."
Sign up for the Tnooz newsletter, here, to get the savviest travel technology and marketing B2B news.