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Via Bets On Pilgrimage Tours With New Bus Service

Travel services and e-commerce group Via has just launched a new bus tourism service, to tap the pilgrimage tourism opportunity in India.

The Indo US Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital backed Flightraja Travels Pvt. Ltd. That runs the Internet site Via, began as an offline B2B travel firm in 2007. It was founded by Vinay Gupta and Amit Aggarwal, the CEO and CTO respectively.

The company raised $5 million from Indo US Venture Partners in 2007 and followed it up with a $10 million round from Sequoia Capital in December 2009.

Bus tourism itself is not a new sector for Via – in 2007 it built a reservation system for bus operators to enable bus bookings. Along with other travel start-ups focused on the bus industry, Via has helped computerise and automate the booking process for bus tickets.

As part of Travel More, its B2C site, Via allows users to book bus tickets online. It already has on board 1,000 bus operators across India and over 10,000 bus routes. According to the ticketing site, it witnesses 150 transactions per hour.

So the latest initiative comes as a forward push in the bus transport services business. But moving from being an enabler to an operator comes with its own headaches and we would need to watch out how it affects the cost overheads of the firm and more importantly reaction from competitors.

Via's growth has rocketed over the past five years and now has a presence in Middle East and India. Several new initiatives have been launched over the years – an online flight booking site (Via.com), hotel bookings (Via Rooms) and even e-commerce. Via has also started aggressively acquiring larger brick and mortar travel agencies to expand its network, like MakeMyTrip, and now seems to have hit on a gold mine with pilgrimage tourism.

Today, Via has a network of 20,000 travel partners across 2,400 cities and towns in the country. It claims to have 4 crore customers and footfalls of 20 lakh at its 50,000 offline outlets.

As of 2010, the company claimed annual sales revenue of $500 million and earlier this year, it said it intends to raise $100 million to expand to more countries.

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