Qunar marks shift from meta to OTA, from PC to mobile
During the year Qunar has focused on growing its direct relationship with hoteliers as it looks to move away from its metasearch roots.
Qunar has grown its revenues for 2014 by 106% compared with 2013, with mobile revenues up by a blockbuster 435%. The results put 2014 revenues at $283.1 million, with mobile accounting for 40% of the total at $114.2 million.
In the last three months, Qunar reached a tipping point where mobile accounted for 50% of total revenues. Estimated volumes for the year are 83.9 million flight bookings and 32.1 million room nights, up 64.0% and 98.1% year-on-year respectively.
And there is little sign of a slowdown. Its guidance for the first three months of 2015 is for revenues to increase by between 85-90% compared with Q1 2014. But it is worth noting that Qunar is more deeply in the red, with big increases in the losses column across all the various metrics, with “net loss attributable to shareholders” at US$297.7 million compared with US$30 million in 2013. The markets don’t seem to bothered by the red ink, with shares up 2%. And the bosses are equally unconcerned.
Chief strategy officer Yilu Zhao told analysts on the call that “within five years we will have at least one-fifth of China’s total travel market, which is a multi-trillon RMB market.” Speaking to Tnooz, head of communications Jenna Qian talked through some of the operational points raised in the earnings call. One theme which obsessed the analysts was Qunar’s use of hotel coupons, or money-off vouchers – and the accompanying 10% drop in revenue per room night. Qian explained that coupons were used strategically to create a “virtuous circle” where Qunar strengthens its relationship with hotel suppliers, securing “guaranteed allocation and better deals” in return for increasing volumes. Customers benefit with better prices, which explains the drop in revenue per room night. “Coupons are an effective accelerator of market share growth,” she explained.
During the year Qunar has focused on growing its direct relationship with hoteliers as it looks to move away from its metasearch roots. It now has a direct relationship with 230,000 hotels in China. “Over time, the proportion of our hotel business which is on the OTA model will be north of 80%, but metasearch will not go away. It is important for certain products such as international hotels,” she said. In fact Qunar’s international hotels’ business is growing four times year over year.
Another focus for Qunar during 2014 was mobile, and the role of mobile analytics and big data to drive business decisions. Qunar talked about “cohorts” which is how it defines and segments customers based on when they transact for the first time. “If you look at the 2012 cohort, in the first year they transacted with us on average two times. The next year it was an average of eight and the following year six.” There are many implications of this, she continued. Notably that mobile customers are likely to be repeat customers, “which means that traffic acquisition is very effective, and as the cohorts mature they come back more often.” Mobile marketing is therefore a strong focus for 2015, with Qunar looking at investing in “wireless, pre-installation and offline” rather than spending on mobile search engine marketing. Qunar is also able to offer personalization via mobile and can target coupons to individual users.
Elsewhere, Qunar quietly launched an international brand www.qua.com late last year. Qian said that this is still at “at a very early stage” and that Qunar’s focus remains the Chinese market. “But if we didn’t want to be involved as an international player then we wouldn’t be developing qua.com but at the moment it’s quite a low priority.”
Finally, during the earnings call Qunar execs batted away specific questions about its competitors with variations on the “we don’t really notice and we steer our own path” theme. Qian followed the party line when whether there were any changes since Alibaba repositioned its Taobao Travel marketplace as a standalone unit last October and renamed it Alitrip.com. “We’ve noticed nothing in particular [about Alitrip],” she said. “We’ve got to number one in a fierce market where there were some big incumbents. For us there is nothing unusual about competition, it’s normal.”
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