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Business Deals

New investors make Hong Kong travel site Klook a 'unicorn'

Fundraising to underwrite expansion to Europe and US from Asian base

Klook is developing a Japanese interface to add to its existing eight platform versions for different markets and languages. (Courtesy Klook) 

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong-based online travel startup Klook has reached "unicorn" status after raising $200 million from high-profile investors including Goldman Sachs and Sequoia Capital.

A unicorn is generally defined as an unlisted startup with a valuation of at least $1 billion. This latest fundraising, Klook's fourth, brings the total invested in the company to about $300 million. The company did not disclose the valuation basis of the new funding round but a spokesman said it was more than $1 billion. 

Klook, which calls itself a "destination services" company, operates a platform for travelers to book activities and purchase goods and services such as airport transfer rides, attraction tickets, local tours and spa treatments.

"We are on track this year to be doing $1 billion in bookings in 2018," co-founder Eric Gnock Fah said at a media briefing in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Klook's platform includes more than 50,000 activities and services from 200 destinations, mostly in Asia. The company is now setting its sights on Western markets.

"This round is really to gear up to be growing very serious about global expansion," said Gnock Fah, who serves as the company's president and chief operating officer. "Going into Europe and the U.S., big markets, more mature markets, definitely requires more bullets."

In recent months, the company has opened offices in London and Amsterdam and next plans to add another in Europe and one on the U.S. East Coast to its existing 16 locations. The company first aims to expand its destination offerings from these markets before later targeting them as potential sources of customers.

The growth will bring Klook into more direct competition with Viator, a company founded in Australia which was bought by U.S. travel reviews website TripAdvisor for about $200 million in 2014. Chief Revenue Officer Anita Ngai, who joined Klook earlier this year, was previously Viator's Asia-Pacific general manager.

Klook offers eight versions of its platform for different languages and markets. It is working to next add Japanese, though Japan is already the top destination market for Klook's customers.

Half of Klook bookings are done once a traveler is already at his or her destination, Gnock Fah said, with some 70% completed using the company's mobile app.

"[By] tapping into the new generation of mobile-first travelers, Klook is emerging as the clear leader in the online tours and activities sector," said Neil Shen, managing partner of Sequoia's China arm, in a statement.

Sequoia China, fellow venture investment fund Matrix Partners and Goldman Sachs had also joined Klook's fundraising round last October. Their investments in the latest round were supplemented by funds from Boyu Capital, a venture firm run by a grandson of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin; U.S.-based Technology Crossover Ventures; venture capital platform OurCrowd; an unnamed Southeast Asian sovereign wealth fund; and several family investment offices.

Klook has "no concrete plans" for an initial public offering, Gnock Fah said, adding, "We could do it at any time." 

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