Digital and smart merchandising solutions company Freed Group has acquired Hong Kong’s
oldest travel agency, Connexus Travel
(formerly Swire Travel), to expand its reach into travel.
The acquisition, details of which were not disclosed, blends
the technology expertise of Freed, which had its roots in Travelflan started by
CEO Abel Zhao and co-founder Kenneth Lee in 2015, with the traditional travel
agency expertise of Hong Kong’s first travel agent registered in 1948. Connexus operates in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, specializing in corporate, leisure
and MICE travel.
“We see tremendous growth
potential for Connexus because of its long history of excellent services and
the synergies that will be generated between Connexus and Freed,” Zhao says.
positive outcomes we envisage include business opportunities spanning travel
services, e-commerce, marketing services and brand loyalty programs, all of
which will be underpinned by a comprehensive range of digitalized services and
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Eric Lau, general manager of Connexus Travel, says, “This
acquisition will accelerate the digital transformation of our products through
new signature customer-facing travel applications, which will include the
provision of new user experiences and efficiencies for our corporate travelers.”
Since its inception in 2015, Freed, which started off in travel,
has been expanding its solutions to non-travel brands as well as acquiring
travel companies. It raised a Series A round of $7 million at the end of 2019
and with the funds it acquired an online travel agency in Beijing, called
Beijing JuXingZiZai International Travels, as well as made other moves to
expand including to South Korea and to Singapore.
At that time, Zhao told WiT, “One of the main reasons for our new
round is to acquire and/or invest in more strategic partners to help us to
The pandemic has clearly created more opportunities for
acquisitions with travel companies in Hong Kong and China struggling amid the
prolonged lockdown, and as recovery begins these companies are looking on how
to rise with the changing ride.
Indeed, it was the pandemic that created the occasion for Freed to
develop digital solutions to enable e-commerce brands such as Samsung, China
Mobile, China Life Insurance, BMW and LG to offer lifestyle and travel
At that time, Zhao said, “our business model is super app empowerment.
We empower companies to do more with their customer base – for airlines and
hotels to sell other products, for example. During this time, it’s about
enabling them to sell non-travel related products.”
In an interview given in April 2020, Zhao, who used to work with
Amadeus and Travelport, said, “Technology has been a critical driver for growth
for many industries, but its potential has not yet been fully utilized for the
travel sector. Look at AI solutions overall, the majority of the providers are
pretty much focused on customer service (CS) component, which put a limit on
what the AI system can achieve. Therefore, Ken and I decided to try something
beyond just CS functions. That’s how we came up with the idea of TravelFlan
(travel sector) and ARA (lifestyle sector), end-to-end AI digital solutions
combining and exploiting local products, content, e-commerce, consumer data
into one robust database.”
It’s a formula that seems to be paying off. In June 2022, Freed
raised a further $15 million, led by Daiwa ACA APAC Growth Fund and ACA
Partners. Investors also included Hong Kong property developer Chinachem Group,
Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks’ Corporate Venture Capital Fund,
Radiant Tech Ventures and startup accelerator SOSV’s Select Fund.
With that fund raise, Freed announced plans to open its
headquarters in Singapore and expand in Southeast Asia and beyond. In 2021, Freed expanded to the Middle East with
a partnership with SEED Group, a company of the private office of Sheikh Saeed
bin Ahmed Al Maktoum.
*This article first appeared in WebinTravel.