The fast-growing competitor of established Chinese online travel agencies (OTAs) Meituan-Dianping finally announced its long-rumored IPO on Monday. The company applied to list in Hong Kong and is believed to be seeking to raise over $4 billion, which would give the company a $60 billion valuation. However, a recently revealed $2.9 billion loss in 2017 may turn some investors off from what could turn out one of this year’s hottest Chinese IPOs.

Meituan-Dianping is often described as one of China’s premier startups. But at an around $60 billion valuation, it’s, of course, questionable if the company counts as a “startup” any longer.

Just looking at Meituan-Dianping’s many areas of operation, the company arguably bears more similarities to a startup incubator than an actual startup.  Or even more crudely; a “best-of collection” of high-growth, low-profitability startups—hence its massive 2017 loss.

Among its many ventures are selling vouchers, like Groupon; reviews and listings, like Yelp; ride-sharing, like Didi Chuxing and Uber; food delivery, like GrubHub and UberEats; bike-sharing, through acquiring Mobike; and, of course, travel.

Considering the profitability (or rather, lack thereof) among the companies to which Meituan-Dianping has clear similarities, it likely surprises no one that the Meituan-Dianping is making big losses.

Losses aside, Meituan-Dianping has proven to be a worthy competitor in many of the industries that it has entered. Fueled by investments by the likes of Tencent and Booking Holdings (formerly known as Priceline Group), it has had few qualms about going up against industry leaders.

In travel, this has meant going up against incumbent Ctrip, key backer Tencent’s competitor Alibaba (with its OTA Fliggy), and China’s many other lesser-known OTAs.

It’s unclear exactly to what extent Meituan-Dianping’s Meituan Travel has been successful in chewing off the market share of its competitors in the travel space, but that hasn’t stopped investors from inquiring about Meituan Travel’s rise and its potential threat to Ctrip. Booking Holdings being a backer of both companies is what has made it a key conundrum for Ctrip.

Meanwhile, for Alibaba’s Fliggy, Meituan Travel could pose a potent threat as well. Meituan-Dianping counts Alibaba’s rival Tencent as one of its key backers, and it’s far from inconceivable that Tencent is more eager to have Meituan Travel go after Fliggy than Ctrip and other Ctrip-backed OTAs like Qunar and Tongcheng-ELong.

Arguably the key reason why Meituan Travel—a comparably new entrant in the travel market—is stoking more fears than other OTAs is its relative focus on high-end travel. The company may not pose any threat in product segments like train tickets and low-cost domestic tours. However, if Meituan Travel grabs a significant market share in high-revenue segments, then its absolute market share in travel won’t really matter in terms of revenue.

Of course, continued multi-billion-dollar losses could jeopardize Meituan-Dianping’s chances at raising more capital to fuel its expansion in travel and other industries. The success—or lack thereof—of its IPO will likely be a good indicator of how confident investors are in the company’s ability to turn big ideas into big profits.


Travel Tech & Social Media