Rafat Ali’s Skift Buys Travel Site Gadling From AOL For ‘Way Under $10M’

AOL today made its latest move in offloading assets that it no longer sees as core to its main business: it sold the travel site Gadling.com to Skift, the travel news portal started by Rafat Ali, who previously had founded paidContent.* At the same time, Skift signed a partnership with AOL in which Skift will use AOL-owned MapQuest’s mapping platform and collaborate on content.

The news was announced by Ali on Skift, where he said Gadling would “stay as is for a short bit while we tinker behind the scenes.” Contacted about the deal, Ali told me that the terms of the transaction are not being disclosed but from what I understand from sources it’s for significantly less than $10 million.

Rafat tells me that there are no people coming over with the site. Gadling.com, which became a part of AOL long ago with its $25 million acquisition of Weblogs (which operated 85 blogs at the time of the sale, including Engadget), had no dedicated staff, with the two by-lined authors that appeared on the site people who also worked on MapQuest and AOL Travel.

As a site without too much investment put into it under AOL in recent times, Gadling.com didn’t seem to be doing that well traffic-wise, ranking 15,316th in Alexa’s traffic tables for the U.S., and even lower in its global rankings.

What it did have was a decent presence on Twitter, where it has nearly 180,000 followers, which Skift may be able to leverage better than AOL did, by injecting that feed with Skift’s consistent flow of travel news scoops and analysis (as a point of comparison, Skift has 35,000 followers).

Indeed, Gadling’s online footprint, rather than content assets, seems to be the thing that Ali is focused on. Skift will use it to make a push into more generalised, consumer content as well as a place to gather data for what looks like an analytics-style service, both to complement Skift’s existing focus on people in the travel and travel tech industries.

“We will take over Gadling’s extensive online presence, from the website to its popular social media feeds, and build it as a news-you-can-use companion to the business-focused Skift site,” Ali writes. “We plan to use Gadling as an industry research test-bed for consumer travel interests and habits.”

I asked Ali about whether he thought the sale of Gadling was a sign that AOL is smartening up MapQuest for a sale — AOL has at times been rumoured to be eyeing up selling off MapQuest, which it bought in 1999 for $1.1 billion.

No comment on that from him, either. But considering how so much focus in mobile has shifted to mapping and location-based services, AOL could either have a very good opportunity for itself, or a potentially sellable asset, on its hands.

“No plans to sell off MapQuest,” a spokesperson from AOL said in response to the question. “Very, very focused on launching improved and enhanced products this year.”

AOL’s previous divestments have included spinning off its unprofitable Patch; and selling WinAmp$1.1 billion in patents to Microsoft, IM service ICQ, and social network Bebo.

*Disclosures: TechCrunch is owned by AOL, and I used to work at paidContent.org.