Skyscanner targets $71bn Japanese travel market

Gareth Williams CO and founder of Skyscanner. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Gareth Williams CO and founder of Skyscanner. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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FLIGHT search engine Skyscanner has launched a joint venture with Yahoo in a bid to crack the $71 billion (£45.4bn) Japanese market.

The Edinburgh-based technology firm, which earlier this year became Scotland’s first $1 billion internet business, is hoping to piggyback on Yahoo’s “large and loyal” audience in Japan, where the internet portal generates about 80 billion page views a month.

The companies will initially plough $2.5 million into the tie-up, targeting the world’s third-largest travel market. The firms said that the establishment of Skyscanner Japan provided both partners with “an opportunity to accelerate their growth in this important market and offers millions of consumers comprehensive travel options for free”.

Under the tie-up, Skyscanner will share its technological know-how with Yahoo and power its flight search results. In return, it will benefit from Yahoo’s “wealth of experience” in Japan, where it has operated for almost 20 years.

Skyscanner co-founder and chief executive Gareth Williams said: “Skyscanner Japan is a start-up backed by a leading global travel search engine and the biggest search engine in the world’s third-biggest travel market.

“This is great news for travel in Japan and worldwide. Skyscanner offers the most comprehensive range of travel options to travellers globally, and we strongly believe in making our sites as locally relevant as possible.”

Williams will serve on the board of the Tokyo-based tie-up, alongside Yahoo Japan executive vice-president Gen Miyazawa, head of the firm’s media company, who joined the group in 2010 when it acquired his mobile advertising start-up Cirius Technologies.

Miyazawa said: “This joint venture gives us a thrilling opportunity to launch a travel service in Japan, together with Skyscanner, a leading global travel search company. Yahoo Japan, as a problem-solving engine, will enhance the travel search experience for Japanese consumers through its search service, powered by Skyscanner.

“What’s more, we hope to meet the demand of an increasing number of inbound travellers to Japan, and improve their satisfaction, through the widely recognised Skyscanner service.”

Skyscanner, founded in 2003 as a flight search specialist, saw its revenues soar by 42 per cent to £93m in 2014, underpinned by its global expansion strategy and a push into areas such as hotel bookings and car hire, although that was a slowdown from the doubling of sales reported a year earlier.

The firm now employs more than 600 staff across its nine offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Barcelona, Beijing, Budapest, Miami, Shenzhen, Singapore and Sofia. Its apps, which have been downloaded more than 35 million times, are available in 30 languages.

Carolyn Jameson, chief legal officer at Skyscanner and former head of legal at Edinburgh-based audio chip designer Wolfson Microelectronics, will also sit on the board of the Yahoo joint venture, which is yet to set up its office in Tokyo and hire a chief executive.

The tie-up was announced after fellow Edinburgh technology star FanDuel, the online fantasy sports business, closed a $275m funding round backed by major US investors including Google Capital and Time Warner. The cash injection, led by US venture capital giant KKR is understood to have placed a valuation of well over $1bn on the company, co-founded by husband and wife team Nigel and Lesley Eccles.

Proceeds from the oversubscribed funding round will be used to grow customer numbers across the US and Canada, develop new products and strengthen the management team. FanDuel has more than one million paying users.