HotelsCombined Staffs Up For Global Push, No Rush To Sell

Yury Shar and Brendon McQueen of HotelsCombined small
Yury Shar and Brendon McQueen

Keeping a level head must be tough for Yury Shar and the team at HotelsCombined.com. Staff numbers have doubled to 200 in the past year. Revenue and site visits have moved at the same rate.

Meanwhile, there’s some serious money flying around the meta-search sector – Priceline buying Kayak for US$1.8bn, Expedia dropping US$630m for Trivago.

It’s time to cash in and party, right? No. Yury is a serious guy with a wry smile who says “we’ve had discussions with outside investors” but selling or linking with a larger company “hasn’t made sense” so far.

Instead, HotelsCombined.com is focussing on the next phase of its evolution – which is to build brand – after an extraordinary 2012.

“There’s been a very rapid staff expansion in the past year – more than 100%,” says Yury, who will be speaking at the No Vacancy conference in Sydney on March 14.

Hotelscombined.com now has 100 staff working at its Sydney headquarters and 100 overseas, mostly data and operations in the Philippines and India “with a few local people in various other markets”.

“We expanded our staff because it made sense,” Yury says.

“We’d had a good year and can afford to invest in talent and product.

“This year we’re starting to do more marketing, which until now has been 100% online.”

The idea is to use TV and cable advertising to build recognition of the HotelsCombined.com brand, which Yury admits is low.

The campaign is being tested in its home market of Australia and may be expanded over time.

You could say it’s something of a landmark moment for Hotelscombined.com, which has always seen itself as a technology company working in travel.

Hotelscombined.com was formed seven years by three ex-employees of HotelClub – Yury, Brendon McQueen and Michael Doubinski.

They are still the major shareholders, while key employees also have a stake.

“Our ambition has always been to be a global business,” says Yury.

“We saw a good opportunity and felt we could build a product that would be attractive to users.”

Brendon is in charge of IT and did a lot of the initial coding.

“We are a technology company. Our product is tech driven and until recently so was all of our marketing.

“Paid and natural search has always been very much part of our plan.”

As is partnership marketing, now the biggest sales channel for Hotelcombined.com.

Whether by design or accident, Europe has been the strategic focus.

Hotelscombined.com now has revenue share agreements with major regional partners including Ryanair, Travel Supermarket, SkyScanner and Momondo.

The US is a much tougher market and Hotelscombined.com has no immediate plans there.

“We have to pick our battles, the US is very expensive.”

And right now there is no need with the company profitable and able to fund growth through excellent cash flow without the need to take on additional geographical risk.

So, how profitable is Hotelcombined.com?

Yury won’t say: “It’s a very sensitive issue for us.”

All he’ll say is that in 2012 gross income before expenses fell somewhere between A$50m and $100m.

“We had 100% revenue growth in 2012,” Yury says.

“It was a good year, we grew faster than the year before.”

Though Yury won’t say it seems obvious growth was propelled by the partnerships kicking into gear.

Ryanair for example went live at the beginning of 2012.

Website visit have also surged.

Hotelscombined.com, now available in 29 languages, attracts 18m visitors each month from around the globe.

But for now the focus will be on Australia.

“If we manage to build brand here in Australia we have a proven model we can take to other markets.”

As for the future: “We’d like to be the leading hotel meta-search in the world, that’s the ambition.”

See new Hotelscombined.com ad.

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