eLong fights on, still no decision on Tencent and Ctrip’s offer
Revenues at China’s mobile-focussed hotel platform eLong are back in positive territory, with management confident it can survive internal and external pressure.
Tnooz, Martin Cowen- Revenues at China’s mobile-focussed hotel platform eLong are back in positive territory, with management confident it can survive internal and external pressure.
elong CEO and former Ctrip executive Hao Jiang
There remains a big question mark over eLong’s ownership structure, which has been up in the air ever since Expedia Inc sold its majority stake in eLong for $671m this May. China’s biggest OTA Ctrip was part of the buying consortium and ended up as eLong’s biggest shareholder.
Since then, Chinese internet giant Tencent has entered the scene, leading a group of investors looking to take the business private. It currently owns 15% of eLong and the group making the bid to buy the balance includes, you’ve guessed it, Ctrip.
Anyone hoping for clarity via eLong’s Q3 earnings statement this week was sorely disappointed. A special committee formed by eLong to consider the offer has not yet made a decision and analysts on the earnings call were told that management would not be answering any questions or making any comments about the offer.
Despite this backdrop, eLong was able to report improved results, with CEO Hao Jiang “glad to see our top line in the third quarter…back to growth after the continuous declines in the previous three quarters.”
eLong’s desire to position itself as a mobile-focussed accommodations business is reflected in the metrics shared in the earnings – mobile accounted for more than 75% of its branded room night bookings in the quarter and its app has now been downloaded 390 million times.
The mobile-focus is relevant when looking at the ownership question. The Tencent/Ctrip offer was made before Ctrip announced its share swap and co-operation agreement with Qunar. Qunar also has a strong mobile presence so Ctrip could end up with investments in two major mobile players, both of whom are strong at the lower-end of the hotel market.
Meanwhile Baidu, a major rival of Tencent, now owns 25% of Ctrip as a result of the share swap, which was not the case when Tencent and Ctrip made the offer for eLong.
In China, it is not unheard of for Tencent and Baidu (and the biggest of the lot, Alibaba) to have investments in the same business, but the prominence of Ctrip’s planned co-operations with Baidu makes its planned co-investment with Tencent in a competitor an interesting dynamic.
The situation will have to resolve itself but until then, confusion will reign. And that confusion appears to stretch to the analyst community as well – Ctrip’s Q3 earnings call had a Q&A session which lasted for 50 minutes and had a dozen or so participants firing questions at bosses; eLong’s lasted for fifteen minutes with two on the call.
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