Rakuten buys Voyagin, Japan’s curated marketplace of travel activities



See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten (TSE:4755) announced today that it has taken a major stake in Voyagin, the company behind an online curated marketplace of tours and excursion activities, for an undisclosed sum.

Previously known as Entertainment Kick, Voyagin was founded in December of 2012. The company has been offering a C2C (consumer-to-consumer) online marketplace connecting local guides (hosts) and travelers so that travelers can find and buy tour plans arranged by local guides. Available in English, Japanese, Chinese, and French, the marketplace is listing about 1,800 tour plans from 50 countries, mainly in Asia. What makes the startup unique from other similar websites is they interview local guides face-to-face or over Skype to assure service quality before approving them as hosts. In 2013, the company graduated from the sixth batch of Open Network Lab, a Tokyo-based startup accelerator.

Upon the acquisition by Rakuten, Voyagin CEO Masashi Takahashi said his team will expand business targeting tourist coming to Japan:

Voyagin CEO Masashi Takahashi
Voyagin CEO Masashi Takahashi

I think that a peak of the inbound tourism industry will come up in 2020 because of the Tokyo Olympics games. To make the best platform as soon as possible towards the opportunity, we decided to partner with Rakuten, which would be the best choice for us.

We are currently more focused on offering tours in Japan and Bali (Indonesia), creating successful models of typical different tour plans for city visitors and vacation goers.

Rakuten has a travel-booking site called Rakuten Travel, listing about 30,000 hotels in Japan. Combined with the stock of these hotel room availabilities, Voyagin will be able to create a variety of tour plan products for foreign visitors to Japan. According to Takhashi, their revenue grew tenfold on a year-on-year basis and transacted bookings for 30,000 users last year.

Known as a C2C business model connecting individuals, the marketplace also has an aspect of giving marketing channels for small tour planning companies, and these professional businesses have contributed to Voyagin in making revenue.

The Voyagin team consists of about 20 people including part-time workers, and half of them are foreign staffers. Based in Bali and Singapore, as well as Tokyo, they have been operating business leveraging teleconferences using Skype. Most users visit the marketplace from outside Japan, which gives the impression that Voyagin is a Japanese startup succeeding in the global market.

In this space, we’ve seen Japanese leisure booking site Asoview secured a partnership with travel giant JTB Group in April, aiming to expand the business in the inbound tourism industry. It will be interesting to see how the JTB-Asoview alliance will compete with the Rakuten-Voyagin partnership.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edted by Kurt Hanson