SINGAPORE: The president of Traveloka, Southeast Asia’s largest online travel startup, said it plans to launch financial services in Thailand and Vietnam while it looks to list in the US with a blank check company.
The 9-year-old Indonesian company, of which Expedia and the Chinese JD.com are among its backers, is experiencing a strong recovery in its business after the Covid-19 pandemic spreads in demand.
The company’s president, Kaiser Indra, told Reuters in an interview that Traveluca’s business in Vietnam has exceeded pre-Covid-19 levels, has nearly returned to normal levels in Thailand, and reached half the pre-Covid level in Indonesia.
“The worst happened and we are now well prepared for 2021. Domestic travel is driving the recovery,” he said.
“The plan is to invest in fintech in a big way to allow more consumers to travel in the region,” Indra said, adding that the travel business had returned to profitability in late 2020.
Traveloka, which says it has 40 million monthly active users, is developing “buy now, pay later” services for the Thailand and Vietnam markets.
“We have recently formed a joint venture with one of the largest banks in Thailand to collaborate on fintech,” Indra said. Traveluca, which has smaller local competitors, is talking to potential partners in Vietnam, but Indra has refused to name the parties.
Indra said the equivalent two-year-old Traveluca service in Indonesia, which was launched after the company realized that customers would wait until pay days to book travel, has already facilitated more than 6 million loans.
Last year, Traveloka launched “Paylater” credit cards with some Indonesian lenders. It also provides insurance and wealth management services.
Indra said the business potential is huge in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, where only 6% of the population of 270 million have credit cards.
When asked if Traveloka might buy a bank in Indonesia, like other startups, to expand its financial services, Indra said, “All options were on the table.”
Traveloka, also backed by Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC and Indonesian project company East Ventures, has developed local lifestyle services in Indonesia, offering restaurant vouchers and food delivery service, as well as the popular Covid-19 rapid test.
Indra said the company is the largest restaurant review app in Indonesia.
Traveluca, which has been preparing for the listing, is in discussions with special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, for inclusion in the US.
“The US markets are becoming more attractive because there is a growing appreciation of Southeast Asia as a booming region, and by listing in the US we can also provide an opportunity for US investors to become part of the Southeast Asia growth story,” Indra said.
Many SPACs, the phantom listed companies that raise money through IPOs and merge with companies by luring them with shorter listing schedules, have approached startups in Southeast Asia.
A source said Bridgetown Holdings, backed by Asian entrepreneur Richard Lee, Provident Acquisition and Cova Acquisition are competing for Traveloka, with a potential valuation of up to $ 5 billion for the startup.
The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment filed outside of normal business hours in the United States.
Indra declined to comment but said listing on the Indonesian list remained an option.