US venture fund invests $5 mn in Indian travel firm


Bangalore : NEA-IndoUS Ventures, a venture capital co-founded by tech evangelist Vinod K. Dham and seasoned Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vani Kola, has invested $5 million in Via, India's leading travel services firm.

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The first round of funding in Via, set up as FlightRaja last year, will be invested in expanding its products and service offerings, besides its presence through a network of agents, kiosks and franchises across the country.

"This is the first time an integrated travel services firm is getting VC (venture capital) funding, that too from a US venture firm (NEA), which has been investing in technology start-ups and enterprises all along.

"As we brace to offer travel services spanning air, train and road networks and create an ecosystem for providing end-to-end solutions, the VC funding will give us a leadership position in the travel industry," Via Chairperson Ashwini Kakkar told IANS here.

Booking about 5,000 domestic air tickets per day through a network of 3,000 travel agents spread across 290 cities in the subcontinent, Via has been able to achieve a Rs.20 million (approx $493,000) turnover per day and turn profitable in online space within the first 12 months of commencing operations.

"Once we have the distribution network in place and an ecosystem to provide end-to-end solutions in the three travel modes (air, rail and road), we plan to extend the service offerings to the hospitality and tourism sectors, including holiday and health packages," Kakkar said.

NEA-IndoUS Ventures Managing Director Vani Kola said the immense growth potential of the travel industry had made her VC firm invest in Via, which had a unique and compelling business model.

"This funding is a significant step towards our mission to support new ventures and innovative ideas," Kola affirmed.

With over a decade of experience in the travel industry as the CEO and managing director of Thomas Cook India and vice-chairperson of Mercury Travels, which he acquired from the Oberoi group, Kakkar has devised a robust business model to drive the growth of Via by using conventional and modern methods.

"In a booming economy, travel or mobility has become a lifeline and a force multiplier in attracting investments, building infrastructure and generating direct/indirect employment," Kakkar pointed out.

Using the latest technology, including mobile and web and a countrywide distribution network to reach out even those customers or travellers not connected digitally, Via plans to provide an integrated service connecting air, train and road connectivity seamlessly under one roof.

"If a customer from any city or town wants to travel across the country or overseas for official, business, personal, holiday or health purpose, he/she has to contact us through mobile (voice/SMS), Internet or the distribution network of kiosks with touch-screen facility, agents and operators for booking the trip(s) using any or all three modes of transport," Kakkar said.

Via's unique revenue model does not burden customers with additional charge for the service rendered. Instead, it generates income through commission and discount from operators and maximises business through the volume game.

"The growth potential of travel and tourism is huge, thanks to the eight-nine percent GDP growth, increasing mobility, connectivity, choice of travel mode or destination and disposable incomes," Kakkar noted.

With the civil aviation sector growing at 30 percent and train/bus services in double digits, the travel industry has been witnessing 15-20 percent annual growth over the last four-five years.

Though Indian Railways ferry a whopping 25 million people across the country daily, the airlines take a year to fly the same number of passengers, accounting for a mere 0.02 percent of air travel worldwide.