As we swing into the summer tourist season, a company poised to capitalise on that has raised a huge round of funding. GetYourGuide — a Berlin startup that has built a popular marketplace for people to discover and book sightseeing tours, tickets for attractions and other experiences around the world — is today announcing that it has picked up $484 million, a Series E round of funding that will catapult its valuation above the $1 billion mark.
The funding is a milestone for a couple of reasons. GetYourGuide says it is the highest-ever round of funding for a company in the area of “travel experiences” (tours and other activities) — a market estimated to be worth $150 billion this year and rising to $183 billion in 2020. And this Series E is also one of the biggest-ever growth rounds for any European startup, period.
The company has now sold 25 million tickets for tours, attractions and other experiences with a current catalog of some 50,000 experiences on offer. That’s a sign of strong growth: in 2017 it sold 10 million tickets, and its last reported catalog number was 35,000. It will be using the funding to build more of its own “Originals” tour experiences — which have now passed the 40,000 tickets sold mark — as well as to build up more activities in Asia and the US, two fast-growing markets for the startup.
The funding is being led by Softbank, via its Vision Fund, with Temasek, Lakestar, Heartcore Capital (formerly Sunstone Capital), and Swisscanto Invest among others also participating. (Swisscanto is part of Zürcher Kantonalbank: GetYourGuide was originally founded in Zurich, where the founders had studied, and it still runs some R&D operations there.) The company has now raised well over $600 million.
It’s notable how Softbank — which is on the hunt for interesting opportunities to invest its $100 billion superfund — has been stepping up a gear in Germany to tap into some of bigger tech players that have emerged out of that market, which today is the biggest in Europe. Other big plays have included €460 million into Auto1 and €900 million into payments provider Wirecard. Other companies it has backed, such as hotel company Oyo out of India, is using its funding to break into Europe (and buy German companies in the process).
There had been reports over the last several months that GetYouGuide was in the process of raising anywhere between $300 million and more than $500 million. In late April, we were told by sources that the round hadn’t yet closed, and that numbers published in the media up to then had been inaccurate, even as we nailed down that Softbank was indeed involved in the round.
The valuation in this round is not being disclosed, but CEO Johannes Reck (who co-founded the app with Martin Sieber, Pascal Mathis, Tobias Rein and Tao Tao) said in an interview with TechCrunch that it was definitely “now a unicorn” — meaning that its valuation had passed the $1 billion mark. For additional context, the rumor last month was that GetYourGuide’s valuation is now up to €1.6 billion ($1.78 billion) but I have not been able to get firm confirmation of that number.
From hip replacements to hipsters
GetYourGuide’s growth — and investor interesting in it — has closely followed the rise of new platforms like Airbnb that have changed the face of how we travel, and what we do when we get somewhere. We have moved far beyond the days of visiting a travel agent that books everything, from flight to hotel to all your activities, as you sit on the other side of a desk from her or him. Now with the tap of a finger or the click of a mouse, we have thousands of choices.
Within that, GetYourGuide thinks that it has jumped on an interesting opportunity to rethink the activity aspect of tourism. Tour packages and other highly organized travel experiences are often associated with older people, or those with families — essentially people who need more predictability when they are not at home.
Reck noted that the earliest users of GetYourGuide in 2010 were precisely those people — or at least those who were more inclined to use digital platforms to begin with: the demographic, he said, was 40-50 year olds, most likely travelling with family.
That is one thing that has really started to change, in no small part because of GetYourGuide itself. Making the experience of booking experiences mobile-friendly, GetYourGuide has played into the culture of doing and showing that has propelled the rise of social media.
“They want to do things, to have something to post on Instagram,” he said. The average age of a GetYourGuide user now, he said, is 25-40.
This has even evolved into what GetYourGuide provides to users. “At some point, staff in Asia had the idea of crafting a ‘GetYourGuide Instagram Tour of Bali.’ That really took off, and now this is the number-one tour booked in the region.” It has since expanded the concept to 50 destinations.
(Not by coincidence, today the company is also announcing that Ameet Ranadive is joining as the company’s first Chief Product Officer. Ranadive comes from Instagram, where he led the Well-being product team (the company’s health and safety team). He’d also been VP and GM of Revenue Product at Twitter. Nils Chrestin is also coming on as CFO, having recently been at Rocket Internet-incubated Global Fashion Group.)
That has also led GetYourGuide to conclude it has a ways to go to continue developing its model and scope further, expanding into longer sightseeing excursions, beyond one or two-hour tours into day trips and even overnight exeperiences.
As it continues to play around with some of these offerings, it’s also increasingly taking a more direct role in the branding and the provision of the content. Initially, all tickets and tours were posted on GetYourGuide by third parties. Now, GetYourGuide is building more of what Reck calls “Originals” — which it might develop in partnership with others but ultimately handles as its own first-party content. (That Instagram tour was one of those Originals.)
It’s worth noting that others are closing in on the same “experiences” model that forms the core of GetYourGuide’s business: Airbnb, to diversify how it makes revenues and to extend its touchpoints with guests beyond basic accommodation bookings, has also started to sell experiences. Meanwhile, daily deals pioneer Groupon has also positioned itself as a destination for purchasing “experiences” as a way of offset declines in other areas of its business. Similarly, travel portals that sell plane tickets regularly default to pushing more activities on you.
Reck pointed out that the area of business where GetYourGuide is active is becoming increasingly attractive to these players as other aspects of the travel industry become increasingly commoditised. Indeed, you can visit dozens of sites to compare pricing on plane tickets, and if you are flexible, pick up even more of a bargain at the last minute. And the rise of multiple Airbnb-style platforms offering private accommodation has made competition among those supplying those platforms — as well as hotels — increasingly fierce.
All of that leaves experiences — for now at least — as the place where these companies can differentiate themselves from the pack. Reck believes that focusing on this, however, means you just do it much better than companies that have added experiences on to a platform that is not a native destination for discovering or buying that kind of content or product. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t others natively tackling “experiences” from the world of startups. Klook is one also funded by Softbank.)
“Consumers, especially millennials, are spending an increasing portion of their disposable income on travel experiences. We believe GetYourGuide is leading this seismic shift by consolidating the fragmented global supply base of tour operators and modernizing access for travelers globally,” said Ted Fike, Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “This combination creates powerful network effects for their business that is fueling their strong growth. We are excited to partner with their passionate and talented leadership team.” Fike is joining the board with this round.