Investors scour India for next Ctrip-like site

As the weather heats up in India, an investment wave is also gripping the country. Last week, investors, in search of the next International, put money behind three new travel portals, betting that if they don’t have the kind of IPO exit that Ctrip enjoyed, at least they’re likely to merge.

WestBridge Partners, announced that it led a $10 million Series A round in Mumbai, India-based travel portal

Plus, India media reported late last week that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is making its first India investment by taking part in the $3 million funding of Mumbai, India-based, another nascent travel portal for India. Kleiner Perkins is joined on the deal by Sherpalo Ventures.

And Norwest Venture Partners announced a joint venture with Indian heavyweights Reliance Capital (the private equity investment arm of the Reliance Group) and TV18 Group (which claims to provide India’s leading business TV channel and news portal) to create a travel portal for India called Yatra Online. Yatra’s founders Dhruv Shringi and Manish Amin are fresh from their sale of Ebookers, another online travel portal they founded and that was just acquired by Cendant Corp.

All three Indian travel websites were in various stages of development, as of late last week.

“India is a big market. There is room for three or four major players here,” says B.P. Balaraj, a co-founder of WestBridge who spent years at Goldman Sachs in Asia buying and selling companies.

The travel site investors are obviously betting they can find another Ctrip, a Shanghai-based provider of travel-related services. Backed by The Carlyle Group, IDG Technology Venture Management and other investors, Ctrip launched a $75 million IPO in 2004 and saw its stock price double immediately.

Whereas Ctrip entered an emerging industry of travel services in China, the Indian travel sites enter a competitive market., founded in 2000, received $10 million in funding in May 2005 from Hong Kong-based Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund. MakeMyTrip has a working website and offers the sort of services – flights, rooms, holiday packages, road trips, destination information, special deals, 24-hour support – that India is supposedly lacking. says it earned more than $20 million in revenue last year and has been profitable for the last two years. The company projects it will have $50 million in annual revenues by the next fiscal year.

A quick Internet search turns up several travel sites with an India focus (Such as, and, among others), Plus, all of the major hotels in India, such as the Taj and Oberoi, along with various International chains – Sheraton, Hilton, Hyatt and Sofitel – offer online booking services.

The problem, as travelers in India will tell you, is not booking a ticket online; the problem is that there are too few seats on planes and not enough hotel rooms available to be booked by any means. Still, as Balaraj points out, the market opportunities are huge, thanks to a population of more than a billion potential customers.

“There will be a consolidation at some point among all these startups,” Balaraj says. “And some of these companies will be sold to others.”