Cleartrip acquires Saudi Arabia’s online travel firm Flyin

More young Saudis are traveling further afield. (Reuters)
Updated 21 June 2018
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Cleartrip acquires Saudi Arabia’s online travel firm Flyin

  • Online travel market opens up in Kingdom
  • Growth of budget carriers boosts destination options

LONDON: Dubai-headquartered Cleartrip has acquired the Saudi Arabian online travel company Flyin in an effort to capitalize on the growing online and mobile travel business in the Kingdom.

The deal is considered one of the largest in the travel sector in the Middle East and the combined company will have more than 60 percent of the regional market share.

The two business combine represent $600 million in sales — excluding Cleartrip’s India business.

Cleartrip’s CEO Stuart Crighton said in a phone interview that the deal will help his company “double-down on the growth we’ve been experiencing in the Middle East and allow us to start to explore broader opportunities within the Mena region.”

Abdullah Al Romaih, founder of Flyin, said in a statement: “Cleartrip will also help us to offer our customers new and enhanced travel experiences.

“We look forward to having Cleartrip continue to support the economic growth in the Kingdom, as well as the evolving travel needs of our customers.”
The acquisition reflects the growing appeal of booking holidays and travel online in Saudi Arabia, said Crighton, particularly via mobile phones rather than just on a desktop.

“What we do is bring a lot more technology specifically around our mobile platform, and significantly more content,” said Crighton, which he sees as complementary to Flyin’s localized content. 

He added that there might be an option to expand the Flyin brand, with Cleartrip content, into other Arabic-speaking nations in the future, but that would be “further down the line”.

Not only has the means of booking travel changed in the Kingdom, Saudis are also looking to travel to different regions and seeking a wider variety of accommodation and travel options.

“There has been a disintermediation of the travel world we understand. Traditionally it has been a very luxury-driven market,’ said Crighton.

This has been partly fueled by the emergence of more low-cost airlines in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region, coupled with a growing youth population that are looking for better value for money.

“It reflects a very young demographic and a digitally-savvy demographic that are looking for affordable choice,” Crighton said.

Travel destinations for both Saudi and other Gulf holidaymakers are also shifting, he said.

“If I just look at my office during the Eid break. Half are off to Baku. others are off to Georgia, some are off to the Dalmatian Coast,” he said, adding these were options not available before the rise of more low-cost travel options.

While noting Saudi Arabia is a “complex” market, Crighton remains optimistic about the growth opportunities for the Kingdom’s travel business.

“There is a lot of new content coming online in Saudi itself — new airlines and the domestic travel environment is changing quickly as well.”
He said he anticipated a lot more interest from other non-Saudi companies.

“There is a lot of fact finding about what is going on in that market … once people get comfortable with that, it will create opportunities and lot of companies will gear themselves up to look for those kind of partnerships,” he said.


Barclays payments to Qatar would have been ‘unacceptable’ to market, London court hears

Updated 19 February 2019
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Barclays payments to Qatar would have been ‘unacceptable’ to market, London court hears

  • The UK Serious Fraud Office alleges that four bankers agreed to pay £322 million in secret fees to Qatar
  • It is claimed that Barclays agreed to pay Qatar more than double the standard 1.5 percent investment commission and hid this from other investors

LONDON: Former Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius could not remember if he was told the bank was paying higher fees to Qatar than other investors during an £11.2 billion ($14.6 billion) fundraising in the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, a London court heard on Tuesday.

However he said that paying such commission to one set of underwriters and not the other would have been “unacceptable to the market.” Agius is not accused of any wrongdoing.

He was the first witness to testify in the trial of four former Barclays executives, who include the then CEO John Varley.

“I would have wanted to understand why it would’ve been necessary,” he told the court.

The UK Serious Fraud Office alleges that the four bankers agreed to pay £322 million in secret fees to Qatar.

During the fraud trial — which began in January — the prosecution told the court that the then Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim demanded a personal fee for investing in Barclays.

It is claimed that Barclays agreed to pay Qatar more than double the standard 1.5 percent investment commission and hid this from other investors by making the payments through what prosecutors alleged were bogus Advisory Services Agreements, or ASAs, Southwark Crown Court heard.

Agius also told the court that he feared resignations from the board in 2008.

“Any one of them might have said, ‘This wasn’t what I signed up for, how do I get out of here?,’” he said.

“I’m clear that in June 2008 we at Barclays did not anticipate how much worse things were going to get. I don’t think we thought it was going to go as badly as it ultimately did.”