Digital and smart merchandising solutions company, Freed Group, has
acquired Hong Kong’s oldest travel agency, Connexus Travel (formerly
Swire Travel), to expand and extend 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. It operates in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai,
specialising in corporate, leisure and MICE travel.
Said Zhao, “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. The positive outcomes we envisage
include business opportunities spanning travel services, e-commerce,
marketing services and brand loyalty programmes, all of which will be
underpinned by a comprehensive range of digitalized services and
Eric Lau, recently appointed general manager of Connexus Travel,
said, “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 travellers.”
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 US$7 million at the end of
2019, and with the funds, it acquired an OTA 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 expand faster.”
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
At that time, Zhao said, “our business model is superapp 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
utilised 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-2-end AI Digital Solutions combining and
exploiting local products, content, eCommerce, consumer data into one
It’s a formula that seems to be paying off. In June 2022, Freed
raised a further US$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.