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Business deals

AirAsia to take over Gojek's business in Thailand

Malaysia carrier furthers its "superapp" ambitions via deal with Indonesia unicorn

AirAsia is looking to grow in Thailand's food delivery market as Gojek shifts its focus to Vietnam and Singapore. (Source photos by AFP/Jiji and Getty Images) 

KUALA LUMPUR/JAKARTA -- AirAsia is to acquire Indonesian unicorn Gojek's business in Thailand as the low-cost Malaysia airline steps up its digital ambitions.

Confirming an earlier report by Nikkei Asia, Gojek and AirAsia announced an all-share deal on Wednesday that will see the Indonesian tech group take a 4.76% stake in AirAsia's own "superapp" business, in newly issued shares, in exchange for its Thai business.

AirAsia's superapp business has been valued at around $1 billion, while Gojek's Thai business has been valued at a total of $50 million, AirAsia said in a stock exchange filing.

The agreement shows how AirAsia is trying to join the ranks of Southeast Asia's superapps alongside Gojek and Grab, with a business spanning ride-hailing and delivery to online payments.

"By taking on Gojek's well-established Thai business, we'll be able to turbocharge our ambitions in this space to become a leading ASEAN challenger superapp," said Tony Fernandes, the group CEO of AirAsia.

Gojek's app in Thailand will run until the end of July, and AirAsia hopes to have its superapp up and running in August. Fernandes added in an online news conference on Wednesday that there will be no redundancies arising from the transition.

The deal shows how Gojek is reshaping its regional business in the wake of its announcement in May that it would merge with Tokopedia -- one of Indonesia's largest e-commerce platforms -- to form GoTo.

The deal would allow Gojek to increase investments in Vietnam and Singapore, the companies said.

Kevin Aluwi, CEO of Gojek, said during an online news conference that talks between the companies began around two months ago.

"When we look at where we could really deploy our product and engineering resources, not just capital ... we decided that our priority was to invest in Singapore and Vietnam," Aluwi said, "just because of the scale of business we have in those markets."

He added that the company can find "a path to market leadership" in the two countries.

"When we realized that we couldn't properly commit the right resources to Thailand," Aluwi said, "we ensured we could find the right partner with the commitment and resources.

"But we remain as committed as ever to growing our markets outside of Indonesia."

Both Fernandes and Aluwi alluded to the possibility of doing further business together outside Thailand but did not disclose any details.

Fernandes has previously publicly stated his intention to compete with Gojek and Grab, its Singapore-based rival, which is headed for a U.S. stock market listing this year.

AirAsia Digital, including the company's non-airline businesses, already includes food and fresh food delivery, courier services, an e-commerce platform and a payment gateway but has lacked ride-hailing compared with the other big players in the market.

AirAsia has been present in Thailand's aviation industry since 2003 via Thai AirAsia. It currently operates in Malaysia and Singapore while its stand-alone cargo company Teleport is present in major countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand.

GoTo lags its rivals in international expansion. Tokopedia only operates in Indonesia, while Gojek has operations in three countries outside of its home market -- Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.

Grab operates in eight Southeast Asian countries. Sea, another superapp, is in six countries in the region, with further operations in Taiwan and four South American countries.

The Thai superapp market is seen as particularly competitive given how local conglomerates have taken part. Retail giant Central Group invested $200 million in Grab's Thai subsidiary in 2019, while Thailand's largest conglomerate, Charoen Pokphand Group, is working to nurture its telecom subsidiary's TrueID content app into a more powerful superapp.

According to food delivery research by Singaporean consultancy Momentum Works, Gojek's service had a far smaller share of the Thai and Vietnam markets compared to Grab and Sea in 2020.

GrabFood took up 50% of Thailand's $2.8 billion food delivery market in 2020 in terms of gross merchandise value, while Frankfurt-listed Delivery Hero Group's Foodpanda and Line's Lineman covered 23% and 20% respectively. Gojek's GoFood had a 7% share in the market.

Thailand's internet economy was valued at $18 billion in 2020, according to a report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company, the second biggest in the region behind Indonesia. It is expected to grow to $53 billion in 2025.

Additional reporting by Masayuki Yuda in Bangkok

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