Baidu, China's largest search engine company by market share, has signed a deal with Skyscanner, the UK-based flight search company, as it seeks to rival Google in providing travel information to internet users.
People looking for international flights on the Baidu search engine will be presented with results pulled from Skyscanner's database of more than 750m air fares from in excess of 900 airlines.
Travel information has become a key focus for Google, which presents its own tables of flight information prominently in its search results. Two years ago it bought ITA Software, whose technology is used to find flight information and prices. The deal caused concern among online travel companies that Google would use ITA's data to dominate the online flight search market.
Google also recently bought Frommer's brand of travel guides and owns the Zagat restaurant guides.
Baidu's deal with Skyscanner shows, however, that other search engines are also looking to play a part in the travel market. Baidu last year took a majority stake in Qunar, one of China's oldest and biggest online travel agents, and uses Qunar's results for domestic flight searches.
Skyscanner said it had also held discussions with Yandex, Russia's leading search engine company, but there are no immediate plans for a tie-up.
The travel industry in the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific was estimated to be worth $723bn in 2009 and around a third of purchases were made online. It is by far the largest category in e-commerce, eclipsing sales of books and electronics.
Privately-held Skyscanner is one of the world's three leading flight search services, alongside Google and US-based Kayak Software, which listed on Nasdaq last month and has a valuation of about $1bn.
Edinburgh-based Skyscanner, which is backed by Scottish Equity Partners, is one of the UK technology companies most likely to launch a stock market listing in the next few years and is closely watched by the investor community.
Though estimated to be about a third smaller than Kayak in terms of its traffic, Skyscanner is the most visited flight search website in Europe and is making rapid advances into Asia. The company is opening an office in Beijing and expects to increase staff at its Singapore office, which was opened less than a year ago.
Shane Corstorphine, chief financial officer at Skyscanner, said the company had already seen traffic to its site grow 700 per cent over the past year in China and that he expected the deal with Baidu to accelerate this further.
"It is a seal of approval by a very big internet company and helps us really start to consolidate in Asia. Asia accounted for 7 per cent of revenues last year, up to 15 per cent this year. I would expect Asia to be competing with the size of our business in Europe within 12 to 18 months". Skyscanner turns over £30m a year and has 20m unique visitors to its site a month.