Rakuten not only runs Japan’s largest e-commerce site, but also one of its leading online travel agencies, booking over 3.8 million hotel nights each month.
Now the company is expanding its horizons beyond hotels and flights with the acquisition of Voyagin, a Tokyo-based tour planning startup.
The deal’s financial terms have not been disclosed, but Voyagin co-founders Masashi Takahashi and Tushar Khandelwal say Rakuten paid cash and now holds more than 50 percent stake. TechCrunch first profiled Voyagin a few months after it launched in late 2012 to provide tourists with offbeat tours hosted by local residents.
Now the site features over 1,800 activities and served more than 30,000 travelers over the past year. Its main markets are Tokyo, Kyoto, Okinawa, and Bali, but Voyagin is also eyeing expansion into the rest of Southeast Asia and China.
Voyagin will allow Rakuten to increase its roster of travel offerings and serve more inbound travelers, since most of its users are currently domestic tourists. The company has 13 employees, but plans to use its new investment to grow its engineering, sales, and operations teams.
Travel to Japan has boomed recently due to the depreciation of the yen and relaxed visa policies for China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. In April, Japan had almost 1.8 million foreign tourists, a 43.3 percent increase year-over-year. That number is expected to grow at an even faster rate as the country prepares for the 2020 Olympic Games.
The site will remain a separate brand but Khandelwal says it is working on integrations with Rakuten’s other travel properties.
“Rakuten is already the top OTA [online travel agency] in Japan, but it wants to cover all fields of being an OTA. It already offers flights and hotels, and Voyagin allows them to cover the last mile of this space,” says Khandelwal. “Rakuten is also interested in expanding its OTA in Asia. We’ve already started on our journey of becoming an Asian-based platform for tours and activities, so we can help them branch out.”