Wego CEO Sets Ambitious Goal to Be the First Travel Unicorn in the Middle East
Like a true tech entrepreneur, Ross Veitch prefers to still call the travel company that he co-founded in 2005 — Singapore-Dubai-headquartered Wego — “a technology company that happens to be active in the travel space.”
However, following a move to focus more deeply on the Middle East, the Wego CEO is now confident that his purely online travel company would be one of the first travel unicorns in the region and has also hinted at the possibility of going public.
Amongst all the companies tackling the opportunity in the Middle East, Wego will probably be the first to go public and hit and exceed the billion-dollar valuation, he said. “The Middle East and North Africa region is a large and rapidly growing online travel market that will produce multiple online travel unicorns and I’m confident that Wego will be one of the first.”
And while Veitch may not have specifically used the term superapp, he did say that Wego, which is currently focused around flights and hotels, intends to be a one-stop shop for everything that the Middle East traveler would need within the travel domain.
We want to be the most vibrant marketplace with the widest range of travel sellers, suppliers as well as other online travel agencies active in our marketplace, he said.
Expressing a desire to extend assistance to other products, Veitch said Wego would like to scale up its activities and experiences business and also intends to get into Hajj and Umrah.
The opportunity around good old fashioned holiday packages is also not lost on him. “There is an interesting opportunity around holiday packages for Middle East travelers. Nobody’s doing that at scale out of the Gulf.”
Acquisitions to Help Create a More Diversified Online Travel Company
In its efforts towards creating a more diversified online travel group, Wego, which had traditionally been a travel metasearch engine, announced the acquisition of Cleartrip’s Middle East business and Saudi Arabia-based Flyin.com. from Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart Group in February.
Wego had been doing business with Cleartrip and Flyin for over a decade and according to Veitch the companies had flirted with the idea of combining their businesses on multiple occasions.
“Those discussions came into alignment when Flipkart bought the Cleartrip business, earlier last year,” he said.
Even as Cleartrip and Flyin are both strong brands in the travel domain, he said the brands resonate with very different audiences that don’t overlap much.
“Cleartrip has a strong base among non-residential Indians who live primarily in the United Arab Emirates and are spread across the Gulf. Flyin on the other hand is a pioneer brand in Saudi Arabia favored by a lot of Saudi nationals.”
This acquisition would help Wego run a portfolio of brands targeting relatively different customers and the product strategy would be to solve problems for each of those different customer bases, he said.
Between the metasearch and the online travel agency Veitch said they would be running the businesses relatively separately, but some technological consolidation would take place.
Building the Brand and Doubling Revenue and Headcount Size
Veitch doesn’t just want Wego to be a travel unicorn, he also wants the travel company to be the largest group within the Middle East with one of its three brands — Wego, Cleartrip and Flyin — being the brand of choice for every traveler in the region.
“We’re really building a brand in the Middle East and North Africa region. Today, we reach more travelers in the Middle East than anyone else,” he claimed.
With the Gulf countries as its core market, Wego has obvious ambitions to explore the wider Middle East and North Africa region as the next step.
Already active in about 80 countries, the Wego CEO said that they are keen to explore a whole bunch of markets that are tied in travel corridors — Pakistan, Turkey, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and India to some extent.
The company is also looking to double its size, both in terms of its revenue base and headcount — going from 200 people to 400 after bringing in Cleartrip and FlyIn.
“Wego’s business has recovered to around 90 percent of 2019, pre-Covid we had been doing about $2 billion in gross merchandise value across the group,” Veitch said.
First Call for Tourism Boards
Long before the birth of online travel, tourism boards have always collaborated with travel agencies to drive demand. Tourism boards came to travel agencies with marketing budgets and together they figured out a market strategy to drive conversions.
Wego has taken that very model and adapted it for the digital realm and according to Veitch this not only helps drive revenue, but also extends its marketing reach.
“The Middle East market has become a priority market for a lot of the world’s tourism boards as they’ve now realized that it’s a nice reliable source of high-yield long-stay visitors,” he said.
Calling Wego one of the biggest digital players operating in the travel space, Veitch said it is often the first call for tourism boards eager to activate the market.
While there are typically around 15 to 20 of these partnerships running at any given moment, Wego’s biggest partnerships, Veitch said, are with tourism boards that have always been very serious about the Middle East market — Visit Britain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Thailand, Singapore. Australia, Germany.
Wego has a pretty good and effective playbook, according to its CEO. “We collect a lot of data about travel preferences, and we have a fairly sophisticated tech stack that we use to remarket to those users.”
The audience data then becomes the raw ingredients for a nice effective, well targeted destination campaign.