Mumbai: The recent acquisition of Naspers’ stake in TBO (Travel Boutique Online) Group by Standard Chartered Private Equity (SCPE), has returned the promoters Ankush Nijhawan and Gaurav Bhatnagar as majority shareholders.
With a healthy balance sheet and SCPE on board, the company is evaluating M&A opportunities in India, China, Indonesia and Europe
“This reflects the tremendous confidence SCPE has in the leadership of the founders and the robustness of TBO’s business model,” says Nijhawan, Co-founder, TBO Group.
Strategic investor Naspers, which bought into TBO in 2012, and PE firm Standard Chartered have very different approaches. South African firm Naspers’ investment was a significant breakthrough for TBO and helped it grow quickly in the Middle East and Africa markets.
“SCPE can turbo charge TBO in a very big way. They want to throttle faster. What we did with Naspers in six years, we should be able to do with our new investors in 3-4 years,” beams a confident Nijhawan.
TBO will now be aggressive with acquisitions both in India and abroad. It is always going to be a question of build versus buy and there will be a little bit of both. The focus will be to identify products that complement TBO’s existing bouquet of offerings and pieces that drive further synergies.
TBO has a healthy balance sheet and with SCPE on board, growth capital is not a problem anymore. The company is evaluating M&A opportunities in India, China, Indonesia and Europe.
“The Middle East and China are top priorities for us to grow,” adds Nijhawan. “TBO China alone can be as big as TBO Group today. That is the opportunity we are seeing.”
Incorporated in 2006, TBO has been the pioneer in the B2B online travel space and grossed $1.1 billion last fiscal, of which, India pulled in 65 per cent. TBO offers airline tickets, hotel rooms, foreign exchange, rail, car rentals and insurance.
The cruise piece will be included before the end of 2018 as it is one of the fastest growing segments not only in India but the Middle East and other markets too.
TBO is a formidable player in the airline business and the undisputed market leader in India when it comes to hotel inventory. In the Middle East, it is growing from being a challenger to a leader in the hotel category. While the airline business is a low margin volume play, the hotel side which is 35-40 per cent of current topline delivers a handsome return.
The decision in 2013 to focus on hotels has been a major game changer for TBO. Around the same time, the overseas expansion plan started to roll out with first outpost being set up in Dubai, a travel market completely untapped then for the B2B space.
The turning point in the Dubai foray came when TBO signed up with Amadeus exclusively to power their hotel content in the MENA region. Then there was no looking back – TBO piggy bagged on Amadeus to every market the latter waspresent.
Today, TBO has offices in 26 locations, presence in 93 countries, regional hubs in Dubai, Netherlands, Brazil, Hong Kong and Australia, and is opening a new country every month. The ambition is to touch 150 countries in the next two years from a current base of 90+ countries.
“We will continue to grow on air GMV but as we expand the hotel business further, our profitability will considerably change,” informs Nijhawan.
TBO will expand further in India, still its biggest market where it has always followed a carpet bombing strategy ably executed by its 130-strong sales team. It has presence in more than 450 cities including Tier II, III and IV markets.
Many years ago, it was an overnight decision to swing from making a B2C platform to one that exclusively focuses on B2B. Today, TBO is the only playerfully B2B and that strategy has paid off well; others are either dabbling in B2C and B2B, corporate and B2B or MICE and B2B. Some B2C leaders have attempted the B2B space and wound up.
Technology is a critical component in the online travel industryand 30 per cent of TBO’s P&L is invested into building tomorrow’s technology today. Technology development is completely insourced and 160 engineers build, innovate and maintain the platform with another 50 engineers getting added soon.
Recently, TBO launched an app christened Roamer, an e-Travel Pocketbook for travel agents and travellers around the world.
Acting as a joint platform between agents and their customers, Roamer makes it possible for agents to keep track of their travel bookings and alterations, while their customers can access all the essential information like e-ticket & hotel voucher, gate, terminal info and online check-in, flight reschedule alert, easy navigation and weather updates etc. about upcoming and ongoing trips.
Also, end customers can easily connect with agents over chat from around the world via Wi-Fi. In a short span of time, Roamer has gained over 9000 downloads worldwide with 300 bookings pushed to the app on daily basis. It is precisely this ‘ahead of the curve’ thinking that has powered TBO’s remarkable journey of success.