Skift Take

In an intensifying superapp rivalry in Southeast Asia, Gojek handed its Thailand business to AirAsia Digital in the face of competition from Grab. While these leading superapps battle, AirAsia Digital is being taken more seriously. After all, it has airplanes and a profitable logistics business to add to the mix.

In a further sign of shifting regional competition among Southeast Asian superapps, AirAsia Digital acquired Gojek’s Thailand operations for $50 million, another move showcasing the airline’s latest ambition beyond just flying planes.

Under terms of the deal, Indonesia-headquartered Gojek will hand over its Thailand operations, including ridesharing, payments and food delivery, to Malaysia-based AirAsia Digital, and the Gojek brand would cease to operate in Thailand August 1.

Gojek, which is merging with Indonesian e-commerce brand Tokopedia to form GoTo Group, will take a 5 percent in AirAsia Group’s superapp, AirAsia Digital. Meanwhile, Gojek plans to pursue expansion in Vietnam and Singapore. GoTo would be a public company listed in Indonesia and New York.

All of this occurs as leading Southeast Asian superapp Grab, headquartered in Singapore, plans to go public in a now-delayed merger with an Alitimeter Capital special purpose acquisition company.  When announced in April, the proposed $40 billion blank-check company merger was the largest on record.

In an interview with Skift Wednesday, AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes talked up Gojek’s innovation, and took a shot at Grab without identifying it. “Others may have got more publicity,” Fernandes said, referring to Grab, “but they (Gojek) are the smartest.”

Fernandes said Gojek was the first superapp in Southeast Asia to offer ridesharing on motorbikes, and the first to sign up “mom and pop” merchants. He added that Gojek took learnings from Chinese superapps like WeChat “and ASEAN-ized it,” referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Fernandes said the deal originated when Gojek executives called him a few months ago, saying they were ready to partner. The companies, with Grab and Gojek considered superapp leaders and AirAsia Digital a new entrant, would complement one another given Gojek’s strength in ridesharing, and AirAsia Digital’s core travel and lifestyle services.

Facing intense competition from Grab in Thailand, Gojek plans to prioritize growth in Vietnam and Singapore. AirAsia Digital, on the other hand, said it would expand into new markets in Thailand such as Chiang Mai and Phuket “in the near future.”

Under the acquisition of Gojek’s Thailand operations, AirAsia Digital adds about 80 employees to its current roster of some 20-30 in the country. Gojek’s customers, drivers and merchants are being encouraged to migrate to the AirAsia super app as the Gojek app would cease operating in Thailand July 31.

While AirAsia Digital gains ridesharing and merchant services in Thailand through the partnership, Gojek can add travel to its portfolio.

Formerly known as RedBeat Ventures, AirAsia digital provides travel and lifestyle, financial, and logistics’ services. In the first quarter, AirAsia Digital’s logistics business was profitable while the superapp and fintech businesses piled up losses, although the latter’s red ink narrowed.

Fernandes said few take AirAsia’s digital business seriously but he vowed to grow the division profitably. He added that AirAsia Digital will give companies such as Expedia Group, a former joint venture partner, a “run for their money” in the region.

He added that AirAsia Digital is a big believer in the potential for groceries and logistics’ services, and that no rival can deliver a package faster than AirAsia Digital because of the Group’s airplanes.

Said Fernandes: “In ASEAN, it is very hard to compete with me.”

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Tags: airasia, asean, fintech, gojek, grab, m&a, mergers, ridesharing, southeast asia, superapps, tony fernandes

Photo credit: AirAsia Digital's food delivery service. AirAsia Digital acquired Gojek's Thailand operations for $50 million. AirAsia Group

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