Jun 05, 2014

    Two Chinese giants eyeing S'pore-listed

    TWO Chinese giants - a leading online travel firm and an e-commerce heavyweight - may be vying for a slice of Singapore-listed to tap the booming e-ticketing travel space in China.

    The potential bidders have yet to put up firm offers for Asiatravel, an online travel-reservation service provider, but a "beauty parade is on hand", according to an industry source.

    If they go ahead with their plans, it will follow hot on the heels of a major deal in the e-commerce space in another Singapore-listed firm - Alibaba's planned purchase of a 10.35 per cent stake in national postal carrier, Singapore Post.

    The Business Times understands that Alibaba's founder and chairman, Jack Ma, was in Singapore recently to finalise talks with another firm. Just which firm is in Mr Ma's sights is not clear yet.

    Asiatravel has been suffering losses in recent years. For the January-March quarter, it bled $1.8 million, up from $1.7 million a year ago.

    The share price performance of Asiatravel in recent months indicates that some corporate activity may be in the offing.

    In fact, the counter, hardly one that used to appear on traders' screens, hit a 21-month high of 33 cents on Tuesday, after gaining 0.5 cent, or 1.5 per cent.

    On its part, Asiatravel has not shied away from publicly indicating that mergers and acquisitions may be on the cards.

    Last month, it said it was in "advanced discussions with various parties to explore all strategic and M&A options".

    Asiatravel's main dilemma is the growing traffic in a crowded space, as more online travel agencies scramble for a piece of the action.

    According to an analyst, the firm's main appeal, one that it has built up over the years and which may be hard to replicate, is its one-stop online business model, which provides customers instant confirmation - with a single click - for hotel, flight and tour package bookings in 12 countries across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

    It could be this that has caught the attention of its big Chinese suitors, who are eager to tap the hot outbound Chinese tourist market, which last year reportedly hit a record 100 million travellers.