New Owner of the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas Is on a Hot Streak


The Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas was recently purchased by Golden Entertainment. Bloomberg

Skift Take: Placing bets on the sleepier side of the Strip could prove to be a winning formula not only for the Stratosphere’s new owners but for other nearby hoteliers, too.

— Deanna Ting

Even in Las Vegas, the land of faux pirate battles and Elvis-themed wedding chapels, the Stratosphere is something of an oddball.

Conceived by poker pro Bob Stupak, the Space Needle-shaped hotel-casino featured a roller coaster and other attractions at its summit when it opened in 1996. Its location on the lightly trafficked north end of the Strip proved too much of a handicap, however, and the casino declared bankruptcy months after its debut. It remained open, and for awhile it was owned by Carl Icahn.

Two decades later, the Stratosphere is providing a thrill ride of sorts for shareholders of Golden Entertainment Inc., the Las Vegas-based casino owner that bought the property and three others last month from a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. real estate fund. Since the $850 million deal was announced in June, Golden shares have risen 56 percent on hopes that Chief Executive Officer Blake Sartini can apply the same magic at Stratosphere that he did with Golden’s main business—operating slot machines in convenience stores, bars and other locations.

“Nobody goes there but to bungee jump,” Chad Beynon, an analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd. in New York, said of the casino, which still features amusement-park rides on its roof. “If they can fix that, earnings will go up significantly.”

Sartini, 58, is a Las Vegas native who got his start in the business working the 25-cent craps table at the El Cortez Hotel downtown. In 1983, he married Delise Fertitta, whose family owned casinos catering to Las Vegas residents. Sartini joined the business, then called Station Casinos, the following year and rose to become chief operating officer.

In 2001, Sartini decided he wanted to go out on his own. He convinced his brothers-in-law, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, to sell him the company’s slot machine routes, which serviced 900 machines in the Las Vegas area, for $14 million. Delise Fertitta cashed out her stake in Station when the company, now called Red Rock Resorts Inc., went private in a 2007 buyout.

In 2015, Sartini merged his company with publicly traded Lakes Entertainment. Since the deal closed in August 2015, shares of the renamed Golden Entertainment have almost tripled.

Sartini began applying tools of the traditional casino business to what he calls “distributed” gambling, such as offering frequent-player cards that reward returning customers. He began buying or opening pubs with slot machines for Las Vegas residents in a sort of hyper-local version of what Station had been doing. Unlike most casinos, where slot players are older, 73 percent of Golden’s gaming revenue in the bars comes from players age 55 or younger.

The company now operates 10,000 slot machines in Nevada and Montana taverns and stores, and Sartini is expanding in Illinois, where it recently got licensed, and is eyeing Pennsylvania, which last month approved gambling devices in truck stops.

Still, it will be Stratosphere that most investors focus on. “It was a transformative transaction for them,” said John Decree, an analyst at Union Gaming in Las Vegas. “It’s now on the radar of a lot institutional investors.”

The deal more than doubled Golden’s revenue — to a projected $847 million this year — and the company now forecasts $180 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for 2017. Debt has also soared, to $1.1 billion from $171 million before.

Some one million people a year visit the Stratosphere to enjoy the view from its Top of the World restaurant or ride Insanity, which propels thrill-seekers over the edge of the tower, spinning at 40 miles an hour. Sartini said he’s still evaluating some of the investments he’ll make to the property, such as adding meeting space, and remodeling the 2,427 hotel rooms that sometimes sell for under $30 a night.

His end of the Strip, which lies between more familiar properties such as Caesars Palace and the city’s downtown casinos, is starting to perk up. The SLS Hotel opened in 2014 and Genting Bhd. is building Resorts World nearby. Sartini plans to remodel the interior and exterior of Stratosphere.

“That property is iconic in terms of any skyline photo or rendering you see of the Las Vegas Strip,” Sartini said. “It’s more appreciated now than it was 20 years ago.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P. This article was written by Christopher Palmeri from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Travelport Signs Deal to Get Hertz’s Prepaid Car-Rental Rates for the First Time


Hertz is bringing its inventory to Travelport’s 68,000 agents and many online travel agency partners. Hertz

Skift Take: As its pace of revenue growth slows, travel-tech player Travelport needs to diversify beyond distributing airline tickets. Rental cars are one bright spot. It is gaining traction thanks to a new deal with Hertz.

— Sean O’Neill

Global distribution systems traditionally made their bones distributing flight information between airlines and travel agents, but Travelport has been hellbent in recent years on trying to go way beyond mere airline distribution.

In fact, the Langley, UK-based company wants to increase its share of non-air revenue to a third by 2020, up from 27 percent in the third quarter. In the September quarter, Travelport’s “beyond air” revenue, which includes its eNett payment-processing subsidiary, rose 11 percent to $169 million.

One positive aspect of Travelport’s non-air push is that it is gaining momentum in car rental sales. The company announced a deal with Hertz to make the rental car giant’s full worldwide inventory of rental vehicle rates, including prepaid rates that once were only available on Hertz’s own website and mobile app.

Travelport sold 29.8 million rental car days in the third quarter, up 16 percent from the previous year.

The prepaid rates had been a sticking point in negotiations that were overcome thanks to Travelport improving its technology for displaying branded content. Earlier in the year, Travelport renewed a similar agreement with Hertz’s global rival, Avis Budget Group.

This summer Travelport also signed deals with fast-growing European brand Right Cars.

To keep those deals and add more, experts said Travelport will need to further enhance its merchandising capability to help those chains sell ancillary products such as satellite navigation tools, flexible booking products, insurance, electronic toll payment devices, and class-of-car upgrades.

In an interview, Travelport president and CEO Gordon Wilson chalked up the growing pace of car rental bookings to technology investments that would enhance merchandising for partners.

He also credited improvements in the booking path that travel agents use. In that regard, Travelport this summer entered into a long-term agreement with Mobacar, an Irish startup specializing in artificial intelligence applications for travel industry, to help predict the type of rental car customers would prefer after they’ve bought a flight.

Some of its travel agent partners, such as Expedia, have also improved their ability to sell rental cars, which has also led to more transactions. Several of the online travel agencies Travelport work with are primarily sellers of airplane tickets, and as they do work on their end to take advantage of Travelport’s rental car and hotel offerings, they may see higher upsells of the product.

Slowing Pace?

Travelport, whose core business is as a middleman-reservation system for 68,000 offline and online travel agencies, continues to look to balance its portfolio by distributing products beyond airfares and in growing its payments business.

The majority of its revenue is from airline-ticket and ancillary-services distribution. Among its online travel agencies customers are India’s largest player, MakeMyTrip, and Traveloka, Indonesia’s fast-growing travel company.

In the third quarter, Travelport’s net revenue rose 3 percent year-over-year to $611 million.

Payment Processing for Travel Agencies

Roughly half of Travelport’s “beyond air” revenue came from its majority-owned eNett subsidiary, which processes payments for agencies. In the third quarter of 2017, eNett saw net revenue growth of 30 percent year-over-year to $54 million — with a forecast to grow 20 percent for the full year compared to 2016’s numbers.

The other half includes hotels, rental cars, and rail. The company’s revenue from hotel distribution in the third quarter grew only about 4 percent compared with the previous quarter.

Tours and Activities

Why hasn’t Travelport added tours and activities, in light of how other business-to-business distribution platforms like FareHarbor, Palisis’s TourCMS, and Hotelbeds have been growing significantly?

Wilson said, “We’re working on it. One of the things we’re looking at is how to make money out of it given it tends to be a low-margin product. We also believe the sales will mostly happen in mobile apps for travelers rather than at the desktop when agents do the flight bookings. Eventually, we would like to sell in-destination product, including rail, via new mobile apps that we plan to roll out.”

Missed Estimates

Travelport had weaker-than-expected profits in the third quarter. Its net income was only $5 million, down 78 percent from the year prior. About $13 million of the $17 million decline, year-over-year, was due to higher tax bills as the company shifted to new markets and lost some tax benefits.

The company’s free cash flow, a metric closely watched by investors, declined 26 percent year-on-year to $63 million for the quarter. Executives said the issue is a blip and that their guidance for the company ending the year with at least $165 million in free cash flow is unchanged. But the company’s free cash flow growth estimate for the year has been more than halved since its 2016 forecast.

Investors were displeased, shaving about 8 percent off the stock’s value by the close of trading on Thursday.

Travelport said its beyond-air products are growing at a nice clip. It said its rate of attaching non-air products to air sales is 48 percent — up several percentage basis points from a few years ago.

To get to a long-term rising pace of growth, Travelport would need to push that higher to meet its diversification and revenue goals.

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Hyatt Shifts Strategy in Plan to Sell $1.5 Billion in Hotel Real Estate Over Next 3 Years

Hyatt Hotels

The Regency Club at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, Arizona. Hyatt sold the resort this year as part of its newly formalized asset-light business strategy. Hyatt Hotels

Skift Take: From “asset recycler” to “asset light,” Hyatt is beginning to embrace a favorite industry strategy for making more money.

— Deanna Ting

Hyatt Hotels has traditionally been known for its “asset-recycling” strategy where it sells properties to reinvest that money into buying other hotels in markets where the real estate isn’t as expensive.

Now, however, there is a clear indication that the Chicago-based company is moving away from that approach in pursuit of a strategy that the majority of publicly traded hotel companies prefer: asset light.

Over the next three years, Hyatt intends to sell $1.5 billion worth of real estate in what CEO Mark Hoplamazian described as an “evolution of our capital strategy” as it “shifts to a more fee-driven business model.” The company intends to keep any sold real estate in the Hyatt family with long-term management or franchise agreements.

In other words, Hyatt is becoming a lot more like its peers, such as Marriott, Hilton, and InterContinental Hotels Group, in choosing to not spend as much money on real estate, and applying that money toward investments in technology and loyalty. It would also earn more money from management fees.

Hoplamazian said this new strategy is already in play with the sale of two hotels this year for a total of $305 million.

“This was the first step in our staged disposition efforts,” he said, referring to the sales of the Royal Palms Resort & Spa in Phoenix and the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, Arizona. Hoplamazian added that the company has four more hotel properties that it intends to sell — one to be sold by the end of the year, and the other three to be sold in 2018.

Hyatt is already seeing the possible benefits of going easy on owning real estate. In the third quarter, total fee revenue grew 12.2 percent to $122 million. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) fell 13.8 percent in the quarter for Hyatt’s owned and leased hotels. That was driven by what Hyatt cited in its third quarter earnings release as “the lapping of the 2016 Olympic Games, transaction activity, natural disasters, and the shift in the timing of certain Jewish holidays to the third quarter in 2017.”

However, Hoplamazian also noted that the company isn’t planning to abandon its asset-recycling strategy in its entirety. “[The$1.5 billion goal] preserves the level of assets that allows us to maintain asset-recycling activity,” he said.

What Hyatt Plans to Do With That Extra Money

Most hotel companies that choose to go asset-light find that doing so frees them up to invest in technology, loyalty, and to buy up other organizations — and Hyatt is no different in its approach.

Hoplamazian said that while he wouldn’t “get into specific numbers with specific types of spend,” he did note that “recent activities have focused on functionality at the hotel that is enabling colleagues to better engage with guests and simplify interactions with hotel systems.”

That includes investments in Hyatt’s mobile app. He said the company is currently running pilots for keyless entry via its mobile app, even though “penetration across the industry, and usage across the industry is very low.”

Hoplamazian also noted that the company is paying close attention to its World of Hyatt loyalty program, recently bringing on two former Starwood Preferred Guest veterans — Mark Vondrasek and Amy Weinberg — to lead the company’s loyalty efforts.

“They both bring tremendous depth of experience in taking consumer info and data and translating that into initiatives that really add value to the program. You can expect to see some changes over the next year as they spool up their efforts.”

He added, “We’re expanding engagement with our customers and increasing share wallet with them.”

The plan is that Hyatt will continue to make more wellness- and alternative accommodations-related investments. Earlier this year, Hyatt bought Miraval for $375 million and most recently purchased Exhale. It also led an investment round in alternative accommodations platform Oasis.

“Our focus will be on capital-light businesses,” he said, and that “may include hard assets like hotels but if they do, we may look to sell down those assets and focus on growing our fee-based businesses or capital-light earnings streams.”

Investors, likewise, tend to prefer asset-light hotel companies versus asset-heavy ones.

Michael Bellisario, senior research analyst for R.W. Baird, wrote in an investor’s note: “We expect shares to react favorably to this quarter’s earnings report given that results were ahead of expectations and, more importantly, in our view, because of Hyatt’s announcement that it plans to sell another $1.5 billion of real estate over the next three years, which builds on last quarter’s commentary (and investor optimism) about Hyatt gradually shifting its focus to more of a fee-driven business model.”

He ended the note by saying, “Hyatt remains our top hotel brand pick.”

Third Quarter Earnings

Hyatt beat Wall Street expectations for the third quarter but, as the company anticipated, it did see a softer third quarter in comparison to the first half of the year.

“We’re pleased to report that, despite facing some headwinds, we produced solid operating results building on a very strong first half of the year,” Hoplamazian said. “We expected the third quarter to be the weakest of the year compared to last year.”

The company’s earning decreased 73.4 percent to $16 million in the third quarter compared with the same period last year. Comparable system-wide revenue per available room (RevPAR) was up 1.6 percent. Excluding impact from a shift in the Jewish holidays and natural disasters in the third quarter, domestic RevPAR was up 1.3 percent.

Hyatt raised its outlook for the rest of the year, increasing its guidance range for comparable system-wide RevPAR from 1 to 2 percent to 2.5 to 3 percent. The company also expects net income for 2017 to fall between $193 to $210 million.

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Brazil Ridesharing Battle Heats Up With New Restrictions Likely

Eraldo Peres  / Associated Press

A taxi driver holds up a poster with a message that reads in Portuguese: “Regulation is not prohibition.” The Brazilian government is expected to regulate ridesharing services soon.
Eraldo Peres / Associated Press

Skift Take: Tension is high in Brazil as legislation hamstringing ridesharing companies is under debate. Enhanced protections for drivers are necessary, but widespread restrictions could hurt the hundreds of thousands of drivers who make a living from Uber and Cabify.

— Andrew Sheivachman

Thousands of drivers from Uber and cabbies faced off in Brazil’s capital Tuesday as the Senate considered imposing new regulations that the ride-sharing app said would sink its business in its second-largest market worldwide.

In the latest threat to Uber’s global business, senators began debating a bill passed in April by Congress’ lower house that would require municipal governments to regulate ride-sharing apps, including requiring insurance for carrying passengers and pension benefits for drivers. It also called for increased oversight of drivers and their cars.

Hundreds of cabbies as well as drivers for Uber and other ride-sharing apps followed the session from the hallway, cheering those who spoke in favor of their positions. Some drivers called out the names of senators who disagreed with them and booed. Outside, police used pepper spray and formed a human cordon to separate thousands more drivers from both sides who had been shouting at one another.

Senate President Eunicio Oliveira said senators could not accept the legislation as written and were looking to find a compromise balancing the interests of the two types of drivers, one that “doesn’t crush one and doesn’t crush the other.”

A vote was expected as early as Tuesday night, but if the Senate made amendments, the bill would go back to the Chamber of Deputies for further consideration.

Congressman Carlos Zarattini, who wrote the bill, has acknowledged that it would likely end ride-sharing as it currently exists, but he and other lawmakers said the apps offer too little protection for their drivers.

Benefits for Drivers

As written, the legislation would “strangle” ride-sharing apps without offering clear benefits to passengers or drivers, analyst Fabro Steibel said.

“It is 19th century legislation for a 21st century economy,” said Steibel, who is executive director of the Institute for Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro, a think tank.

Uber drivers objected to a proposal that they own their cars, which would exclude the many drivers who rent, and another requirement that ride-sharing cars carry the same red license plates that taxis do. The Senate’s press office said there were proposals for amendments to eliminate both of those measures.

Other contentious points included a requirement that drivers get an authorization from the city in which they operate. That could mean drivers couldn’t take passengers from Sao Paulo, for instance, to the city’s international airport, which is in another municipality.

Uber has called the changes a “covert ban” and said they would make business in Latin America’s largest nation unviable. It launched a lobbying campaign against the bill, collecting the signatures of more than 800,000 Brazilians who say they oppose it.

Uber has faced similar challenges in other countries. Last month, London’s transport regulator stripped Uber of its license, though the company continues to operate while it appeals. It has been the subject of litigation in France, where it has been banned from offering rides with non-professional drivers. It is fighting new regulation in Quebec and threatened to pull out of that market.

Walking away from Brazil could be harder, though. The Brazilian market has exploded for Uber and it is now the company’s second-largest market behind the United States in terms of rides.

Other similar services exist in Brazil, such as Cabify, but Uber is the major player. The company says it has more than 500,000 drivers in Brazil, with more than 17 million users — making Brazil home to about a quarter of the company’s drivers and users worldwide. In Sao Paulo, the largest city, it has 150,000 drivers alone, compared to more than 37,000 active taxi licenses.

Urban Crisis

Drivers for the ride-sharing app say the work is a lifeline as Brazil’s economy struggles to recover from its deepest recession in decades. Unemployment stands at 12.4 percent, and many drivers say they turned to Uber when they lost more traditional jobs.

“If this bill is approved, basically 500,000 drivers will be without income,” said Marlon Luz, an Uber driver who helped organize a protest against the bill in Sao Paulo on Monday.

And passengers “will be without urban transport,” Luz said. He said Uber drivers are willing to go where many taxi drivers won’t: into Brazil’s slums and other low-income neighborhoods where public transportation is often scarce.

As in other countries, taxi drivers accuse Uber of unfair competition, saying the company is able to undercut the prices of cab rides because it doesn’t face the same regulation. The lack of regulation, they argue, puts passengers at risk.

Roberto Ferreiro, a Sao Paulo cabbie who has been driving for 35 years, said his business has fallen 30 percent since the arrival of Uber, which coincided with the 2014 World Cup.

Passengers “use it because it’s cheaper. And the question of security? What is cheap ends up expensive,” he said.

But Tais Souza said she feels safer with Uber than in a taxi because the app tracks every journey and records the name of the driver.

She acknowledged that price first drew her to the service, but she continues to use it because of the ease of hailing a car on her phone and because she knows the price of her journey before she gets in.

“Taxis in Sao Paulo are a mafia,” said Souza, who works for a travel agency.

Associated Press writer Mauricio Savarese in Brasilia contributed to this report.

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EasyJet Backs Startup WeSki in a Bet on Vacation-Package Bookings


WeSki, a startup that helps with the booking of customized ski packages, signals the breakdown of the traditional weeklong ski vacation planned months in advance and the rise of long-weekend, last-minute trips. WeSki

Skift Take: WeSki, which helps groups book customized ski vacations, is getting a lift thanks to an investment from low-cost airline EasyJet. But the startup will need commercial deals from the airline or other companies to reach the peaks of success.

— Sean O’Neill

A Tel Aviv-based startup backed by easyJet and a co-founder of Waze Inc. aims to do for ski vacations what did for hotel customers.

WeSki, launched this month by four Israeli ski buddies, allows groups to organize all-inclusive ski vacations that are customized to their needs and, the founders say, cheaper than packages offered by agents.

“Skiing is fun. Organizing a ski trip is less fun,” WeSki co-founder Yotam Idan told reporters in Tel Aviv.

Israel, which is more known for beaches or desert, might not seem the most promising market to launch a skiing app. The country has only one ski resort — on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed in 1981, a move not recognized internationally. Only three Israelis have competed in Olympic skiing competitions, and the country has never won a medal of any kind at a Winter Olympics games.

Flexible Planning

Idan had to explain to Israeli journalists the basic elements of a ski trip such as equipment, chairlifts and apres-ski leisure. According to WeSki data, some 50,000 Israelis have gone skiing or snowboarding, out of a population of about 8.7 million.

WeSki users can book a package involving all the elements of a ski trip, send friends a group invite and have everyone pay separately based on the extras they choose. The site’s algorithm surveys more than 100 tourism providers to put together a package tailored for each group’s needs.

Waze co-founder Uri Levine is among the backers who helped WeTrip, the tourism startup behind WeSki, raise $1 million. Waze was sold to Alphabet Inc. in 2013 for a reported $1.1 billion.

Next Up: WeDive?

Eventually WeTrip aims to offer other personalized vacation packages centered around activities such as diving, cycling or windsurfing — social holidays that a group can plan and reserve together.

For now, packages are only available from the U.K. or Israel to ski resorts in France, but Idan hopes to market WeSki in other parts of Europe by next year.

Jerusalem architect Daniel Assayag, 61, has been taking ski vacations to Europe for 20 years, generally avoiding package tours and organizing the myriad details of his trips by himself.

”I have to say that if there’s a site where you can arrange everything, that will save a lot of headache and will help a lot,” Assayag said. “It definitely could be useful.”

Selling a Lifestyle

Despite the lack of ski slopes in Israel, Idan said it was easier to start the service where the founders understand the local market. With incomes rising and a “keep-up-with-the-Joneses” outlook common in the Israeli middle class, WeSki is pitching a lifestyle as much as a service.

A ski vacation “is not just skiing. It’s opening the window in the morning and seeing snow-covered mountains,” Idan said. “It’s a moment of total freedom, something you remember your whole life.”


©2017 Bloomberg L.P.


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Japan’s Okura Hotels Is Launching a New Lifestyle Brand

Okura Hotels

The lobby of the Hotel Okura Tokyo. The parent company of this hotel is working with Hawaii-based Trinity Investments to launch a new lifestyle hotel brand in Japan. Okura Hotels

Skift Take: Smart hoteliers would do well to follow Trinity’s lead, especially given the increasing year-over-year visitor number growth to Japan and the upcoming Olympic Games.

— Deanna Ting

Trinity Investments LLC, a Hawaii-based real estate firm, said it plans to open a chain of limited-service hotels in Japan in partnership with Hotel Okura Co., targeting a surge in tourism that the government hopes will double by 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games.

Trinity will seek to raise as much as $300 million of equity to initially fund the chain, called Nikko Style and aimed at leisure and business travelers, said Sean Hehir, president and chief executive officer of Trinity. The first hotel is scheduled to open in 2020, he said. The partners aim to open 20 to 30 Nikko Style hotels throughout Japan, including in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka, then potentially expand in Asia, North America and Europe, Hehir said.

“When we looked at the current hotel offerings, there were a lot at the budget end and also at the full-service end,” Hehir said. “There wasn’t as much activity in the select-service space we’re targeting.”

Trinity faces competition from the major U.S. chains expanding in Japan. Select-service hotels are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. lodging industry, costing less to develop and operate because they typically don’t have restaurants or meeting space and require fewer employees. Most Nikko Style hotels will have a breakfast restaurant and limited meeting space.

“There’s still a very wide-open market for select-service in Japan,” Hehir said.

Tourism Boom

Trinity’s plans come amid a push by tourism officials to attract more Western visitors and double international tourism by 2020. Achieving that goal would require more hotels to address a lodging shortage, according to a 2016 report by McKinsey & Co. The Nikko Style hotels will feature rooms about 250 to 350 square feet (23-33 square meters) in size and charge between 18,000 yen and 25,000 yen ($158-$220) a night, Hehir said.

Trinity’s partner, Hotel Okura, was founded in 1958 and opened its namesake hotel in Tokyo in 1962. The hotel’s mid-century design is so revered that it inspired a global petition, ultimately unsuccessful, to save the building from demolition. Part of the original hotel was torn down and is being rebuilt in time for the Olympics.

A record 7.4 million tourists visited Japan in the third quarter, led by visitors from South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and up 19 percent from a year earlier, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

The Okura partnership falls under a joint venture Trinity formed in August with Oaktree Capital Management LP to invest as much as $3 billion in hotels in Trinity’s main markets of Hawaii, California, Mexico and Japan.

“We will be raising capital separately but Oaktree will be partners with us” in Nikko Style, Hehir said. “We plan to raise as much capital as needed to put the first 20 to 30 hotels on the ground in Japan.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P. This article was written by Hui-yong Yu from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Universal Orlando Just Bought More Land in Its Quest to Rival Disney

Ricky Brigante  / Flickr

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios in Orlando is pictured. Diagon Alley is one of the most recent additions at the theme park, but a recent land purchase has observers wondering what’s coming next. Ricky Brigante / Flickr

Skift Take: Universal Parks & Resorts has big ambitions, and now the Comcast-owned operator has even more land to fulfill those goals. The question remains: What will the company do with all this property?

— Rachel Bronstein

Universal Orlando has purchased another 101 acres (40 hectares) for its new theme-park projects in Orlando, adding to the 475 it has already assembled.

The Orlando Sentinel reports Universal closed on the purchase for $27.5 million in October.

The land is adjacent to the $130 million purchase Universal made in December 2015.

The latest acquisition gives Universal more than 570 acres (230 hectares) to work with for future expansion, which is multiple times larger than the property it currently owns and operates as Universal Orlando Resort. That is home to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay as well as CityWalk and several hotels.

Universal has built out its existing developments almost completely, after tearing down the former Wet n’ Wild water park and planning two large hotels there.


Information from: Orlando Sentinel,


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Tours and Activities Site GetYourGuide Secures a $75 Million Funding Round


GetYourGuide’s founders wearing orange shirts (Tao Tao on the left, Johannes Reck in the center) posed for a photo with some of the company’s board members — Philipp Freise, Kees Koolen, and Fritz Demopoulos — but not its newest one from Battery Ventures. Alex Finkelstein from Spark Capital is between Tao and Reck. GetYourGuide

Skift Take: Whoever said there’s no money in tours-and-activities may want to have a chat with the folks at Battery Ventures, whose investment in GetYourGuide brings that startup’s total funding to $175.5 million.

— Sean O’Neill

Tours-and-activities booking platform GetYourGuide has secured a $75 million Series D funding round. It’s the sector’s largest single fundraising amount to date.

The Berlin-based company has now raised $175.5 million since its founding in 2009.

Leading the investment is Battery Ventures, a first-tier U.S. firm  that has invested in several travel start-ups like ITA Software, a technology firm later bought by Google; and Sabre Holdings, a technology company that later went public; HotelTonight; Duetto; Gogobot; (which was just acquired by Ctrip), IHS, and Go Euro.

GetYourGuide’s previous investors also participated, such as KKR, Spark Capital, Highland Europe, Sunstone Capital, and Nokia Growth Partners.

The Series D round comes just weeks after its new-ish rival marketplace, Hong Kong-based Klook, raised $60 million in a round led by Goldman Sachs. Klook differs slightly in its emphasis on delivering vouchers via QR code for ticketing (a popular method in Asia Pacific) and integration with Asia’s popular messaging service WeChat (where its listings are showing up in travel search results there).

Giving TripAdvisor Competition

Johannes Reck, chief executive of GetYourGuide, said that rising players like Klook and GetYourGuide would be the long-term winners in tours-and-activities.

For a long time, GetYourGuide has been portrayed as a smaller player hopelessly battling the largest player TripAdvisor and the tours-and-activities marketplace Viator that it acquired for $200 million in 2014.

But the Berlin-based company said it sold nearly 5 million tours and attraction tickets in 2017 alone. Reck claimed GetYourGuide had taken the lead position in its market, surpassing TripAdvisor and Viator, Expedia’s Local Expert effort, heavily funded Peek, Musement, and others.

He said the company is profitable and did not need the latest funding to remain profitable but is only taking it to accelerate its growth by investing in software engineering to improve its recommendation engine for its users and to add offices in new markets.

Long-time leader TripAdvisor has had many staff defections as the company has been distracted by developing its main hotel metasearch product.

Dermot Halpin, president of TripAdvisor Attractions and Vacation Rentals, told us last month: “We’re making foundational changes to our business, which support our very steep growth trajectory and extend our position in this space.”

Halpin added: “We see a significant progression across the board – we’ve grown bookable supply by 25 percent this year, our customer satisfaction levels are at record highs, and our strong bookings and conversion growth continues. The improvements in this business were integral to the 31 percent, year-on-year growth, TripAdvisor saw in our non-hotel results last quarter.”

GetYourGuide’s Reck said Wednesday that his company’s inventory includes more than 31,000 tours, activities, and attractions like museums in nearly 7,300 destinations.

His company has just over 400 workers, double the number it had at this time two years ago. That headcount is the same as Klook’s and is believed to be the same as TripAdvisor’s and Viator’s, though those brands don’t disclose their headcounts.

Reck said, “It is very likely that independent players outside the giant global brands will conquer tours and activities because the product is differentiated from hotel and flights product and is heavily a mobile-first product.”

GetYourGuide’s mobile transactions this year represented 40 percent of its total, up from 5 percent a few years ago.

Some industry observers are skeptical that small companies can cost-effectively persuade new users to download mobile apps given studies suggesting there is consumer app fatigue — plus the larger marketing budgets of global giants.

Reck said, “Well, all I can say is our numbers prove that we’re doing it. Battery Ventures looked at our numbers, and they are smart guys, and they were persuaded that we’re making it work.”

Reck’s comments echoed recent comments to us by the founders of Hopper, HotelTonight, and Klook, who all claim that mobile is opening a market gap for competitors.

Reck said GetYourGuide intends to focus on its core competency. That means no immediate plans to get into multi-day tours, which the startup TourRadar has become a market leader with and last month raised a $10 million Series B for.

He also said GetYourGuide remains focused on travelers, as opposed to trying to expand to appeal to appeal as well to local users like TripAdvisor’s approach toward restaurants.

“One of the most frequent worries we heard from investors in our earlier years was that travel is an infrequent use case and that consumers don’t buy tours and activities enough to offer adequate engagement for GetYourGuide to get traction,” said the CEO.

Reck said the behavior of customers had not borne that concern out.

Future Odds

Battery Ventures has a track record of patience in the bets it makes on companies, and patience will likely be valuable for its bet on GetYourGuide. The sector is still in its early stages of development with few travelers booking activities in-destination online, as Skift Research noted in its “State of Tours and Activities Tech 2017” report.

Two potential game changers would be the long-shot scenario where Priceline bought TripAdvisor and inherited its tours-and-activities business, which it might ramp up more efficiently than TripAdvisor has. The better odds would be that either it or Expedia might buy Klook, which might, similarly, bestow their marketing power in a way that would be hard for GetYourGuide to challenge.

Given its $175.5 million in fundraising — and that its investors want a multiple as a return on their investment — it is a concern of some that GetYourGuide’s only exit could be through becoming a public company within a few years.

Reck said, “For sure, our plan is to remain an independent company and to go public at some point. Our investors share our vision that you need to build a category-winning marketplace first and that that takes time.”

The CEO he was insistent in rejecting the notion that tours-and-activities are just another product that can be added by global giants and that their search engine marketing prowess gives them an insurmountable edge in acquiring customers via platforms like Google and Facebook.

“People think the tours and activities sector is like retail,” Reck said. “It’s not. Amazon has a different set of competitive advantages by focusing on retail.”

Reck argued that Amazon can gain efficiencies of scale as a shipper, in negotiating volume discounts, and in a network effect with consumers that lets it compete at a much lower cost, he said. But once comparable e-commerce giants like Expedia, Priceline, and Ctrip step beyond commoditized products like airplane tickets and hotels, they struggle. The complexity of matching non-commoditized product with consumers who are uncertain of what they want and what’s available requires getting into the recommendation aspect of non-standardized products.

One thing about the tours and activities sector is certain, though. Startup rivals like Peek and Musement are stuck in the painful position of going up against GetYourGuide plus the global giants with much less money.

Ryan Wolkov

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Author: Ryan Wolkov

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Hilton Must Pay $700,000 for Two of Its Credit Card Data Breaches

Hilton Worldwide

The lobby of the Hilton Cleveland Downtown hotel. Parent hotel management company Hilton will pay fines of $700,000 for two data breaches that took place at its hotels in 2015. Hilton Worldwide

Skift Take: Hilton isn’t the first and it probably won’t be the last of the big hotel companies which will have to pay fines for these all-too-common data breaches in the future.

— Deanna Ting

Hotel operator Hilton will pay $700,000 to settle an investigation into two separate data breaches that exposed more than 350,000 credit card numbers.

The New York attorney general, who conducted an investigation along with his counterpart in Vermont, said Tuesday that one breach began in November 2014 and another in April 2015 but Hilton didn’t tell consumers until November 2015.

The state officials say Hilton didn’t comply with payment-card security standards.

Hilton spokeswoman Meg Ryan says the company cooperated with law enforcement and took steps to wipe out malware that targeted customers’ card information.

[Skift Editor’s Note: Hilton issued the following statement to Skift regarding the fines: “Two years ago, Hilton took action to eradicate unauthorized malware that targeted guest payment card information. We have completed a thorough investigation into this incident, including working closely with third-party forensics experts, payment card companies and law enforcement, including certain state Attorneys General. Hilton is strongly committed to protecting our customers’ payment card information and maintaining the integrity of our systems.”]

Virginia-based Hilton Domestic Operating Company Inc. was previously known as Hilton Worldwide. The company has more than 5,100 properties in about 100 countries under names including Hilton Hotels, DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites and Hampton by Hilton.

Ryan Wolkov

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American Airlines CEO Meets with NAACP About Discrimination

Justin Valas  / Flickr

The CEO of American Airlines met recently with the NAACP to discuss incidents of alleged racial discrimination. Justin Valas / Flickr

Skift Take: American Airlines is smart to welcome this dialog about discrimination. Companies that shove their heads in the sand always pay a higher price in the end.

— Sarah Enelow

American Airlines says its CEO had a positive meeting with leaders of the NAACP and a Women’s March activist who accused the airline of racial discrimination in kicking her off a flight.

The airline said Tuesday that CEO Doug Parker and a senior vice president met with NAACP President Derrick Johnson, activist Tamika Mallory and others in Washington.

American says it hopes to keep the dialogue going.

The NAACP and a spokeswoman for Mallory did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The civil-rights group issued what it called a travel advisory this month to warn African-Americans that they could face discriminatory treatment while traveling on American. It cited four examples, including Mallory, who was booted from an Oct. 15 flight in Miami after a dispute over her seat.

This article was written by David Koenig from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

Ryan Wolkov

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Author: Ryan Wolkov

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