Published: 13 February 2018

Edinburgh-based travel search site Skyscanner has grown exponentially since it was set up in 2003 and is now used by 60 million people a month for global flight, hotel and car hire searches.

Famed as one of Scotland’s ‘unicorns’ – tech start-ups valued at more than $1 billion – the company was acquired for around £1.4 billion in December 2016 by Ctrip, the second largest online travel agent in the world and the largest in China.

“This acquisition takes Skyscanner one step closer to our goal of making travel search as simple as possible for travellers around the world,” Skyscanner chief executive and co-founder Gareth Williams said at the time. “In taking the next step to achieving our goal, Skyscanner will remain operationally independent and our growing global team will continue to innovate and deliver the products travellers know and love.”

The tech scene in Edinburgh is hugely supportive these days and is going from strength to strength. People are really sitting up and taking notice of Edinburgh as a tech hub. I believe this is a key strength for us all.

Gareth Williams, chief executive and co-founder, Skyscanner

Global presence

Famed as one of Scotland’s ‘unicorns’, Skyscanner was acquired for £1.4 billion in 2016 by Ctrip, the Chinese online travel agent.

Skyscanner now employs over 900 staff, including around 360 at its Edinburgh headquarters, 90 in Glasgow and 130 in London. Its other seven offices are in Barcelona, Beijing, Budapest, Miami, Shenzhen, Singapore and Sofia. The company’s products are available in over 30 languages and 70 currencies. 

“As an international company, we’re a team made up of over 50 nationalities, which really helps ensure our products are localised in each market we work in,” Williams says. Access to talent has been a key benefit of the company’s Edinburgh base.

“Tech talent is a real challenge for companies across the UK, so to have young recruits from universities close by is a great thing,” Williams says. “Scotland’s universities are producing high-quality technology graduates and are a fantastic recruitment ground for us. Much of our young talent locally comes from here.” 

Talent support

The City of Edinburgh Council’s Invest Edinburgh team has contributed to the talent search efforts of companies including Skyscanner with initiatives like the 2014 Invest Edinburgh ‘Tech Jobs in Scotland’ talent fair in London. Invest Edinburgh and tech collective StartEDIN also brought the Silicon Milkroundabout Scotland jobs tech fair to Edinburgh in 2015, its first outside London. Skyscanner was one of more than 40 companies attending the event, which attracted 500 people from 14 different countries.

A software engineer himself, Williams moved to Edinburgh from Norwich 14 years ago before starting Skyscanner as a DIY tool to find flights to visit his ski instructor brother in the French Alps. He now calls Edinburgh home and loves the quality of life the capital offers.

“Edinburgh is a compact city that has so much to offer,” Williams says. “It has plentiful green space, thriving businesses and a never-ending roster of world-renowned festivals and events. And lots of fellow software engineers.”

Access to high-quality technology university graduates has been a key advantage of Skyscanner's Edinburgh base.

Tech ecosystem

The support of Edinburgh’s tech ‘ecosystem’ and investment community has been hugely important in Skyscanner’s growth.

“We did at one point consider whether we should move to somewhere like Silicon Valley,” Williams explains. “But the tech scene in Edinburgh is hugely supportive these days and is going from strength to strength. People are really sitting up and taking notice of Edinburgh as a tech hub. I believe this is a key strength for us all.”

Skyscanner took part in Invest Edinburgh’s Great Place for Tech film to promote the city’s tech cluster. The company’s first venture capital funding was local too, from Scottish Equity Partners in 2008. “They’ve been a consistently engaged, informed and an astute partner throughout our journey,” Williams says. “So we consider ourselves very lucky to call Edinburgh our home and headquarters.” 

The close connections and networks of Edinburgh’s tech cluster are among its key benefits, Williams continues.

“People share learnings and failings, there are regular meet ups and there’s a strong sense of camaraderie,” he says. “For our part, Skyscanner hosts events, sponsors tech events and speaks regularly at local conferences. There’s a feeling here that ‘the more start-ups, the better’. I think people find that refreshing.”


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