Growth for Growth: utu Expansion to Harness Booming Middle East Travel

Travel-tech company raises US$33 Million, Acquires SC Ventures-Incubated CardsPal to Bring More Value to Travellers

DUBAI, UAE, June 29, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — utu, a travel technology company transforming the customer experience in tax-free shopping, has closed a deal of US$33 million in combined transaction value. The deal, comprising of an acquisition and a funding round, consists of both a portion of new funding, with SC Ventures participating, and the roll-over of earlier funding from Singapore-based investors, marking a major milestone in scaling up the brand’s endeavours to transform tax-free shopping experiences worldwide. Using the Covid hiatus to establish key partnerships with global airlines such as Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, along with hotel chains and retail brands, utu will use the funds to further expand rewards opportunities for tax-free shopping.

In May 2023, the UN World Tourism Organisation published data showing that the Middle East was the first region in the world to reach and exceed pre-pandemic travel levels during Q1 of 2023, surpassing 2019 figures by 15%. With growth of internal resources to meet this external growth in the region and beyond, utu, co-founded by travel retail and VAT refund veteran Asad Jumabhoy, is poised to disrupt the travel shopping industry by re-engineering the tax refund process, reaching more travellers.

Re-engineering tax-free shopping with Middle East rewards partners

Rather than competing with existing players, utu collaborates with refund and travel industry partners, enhancing refund value through innovative B2B and B2C solutions. With a reengineered approach that links payments, rewards, and shopping, utu introduces new value for tourist shoppers, retailers, VAT refund operators and the entire tax-free shopping value chain.

In the Middle East, this value chain extends to major airlines, specifically their frequent flyer programs. With Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, and the Qatar Airways Privilege Club as rewards partners, utu allows users to earn miles with VAT refunds with increased value and to choose among several top regional carriers’ rewards programs. It also partners with Accor, Europe’s largest hospitality brand.

Asad Jumabhoy, co-founder and CEO of utu, commented: “The cross-border travel market is ripe for a technology-driven transformation, with tax-free shopping presenting vast untapped potential. By enhancing the value of VAT and GST refunds for travellers, we’ve reimagined the cross-border retail experience and devised a technology-based business model unlocking previously inaccessible value. This strategy benefits all stakeholders while also enabling governments to compliantly recycle VAT refunds within their borders.”

In re-engineering the refund process, utu offers users two primary value-centric benefits when they opt to receive tax refunds via their utu Tax Free Card. Firstly, travellers can gain up to 40% more value by opting for frequent flyer miles or hotel points over cash refunds. Secondly, utu can issue an immediate store voucher equivalent to up to 120% of the VAT or GST paid during overseas shopping.

Accelerating availability of utu worldwide

The CardsPal acquisition equips utu with a digital marketplace, a unique promotions engine, a self-service merchant registration portal, and more. This technology will expedite utu’s rollout in major tax-free shopping markets like the UAE alongside some 50 countries offering VAT and GST refunds. Additionally, utu is developing plans to integrate CardsPal’s hyper-localised retail experience into an improved pay-with-points offer more value.

Gautam Jain, Member, at SC Ventures said: “CardsPal is a great example of why we at SC Ventures believe in the power of innovation and support our employees to have transformational impact. Through SC Ventures’ Intrapreneurship Program, CardsPal grew to become a substantial business with award winning UX. We look forward to utu’s continued success scaling its products across the globe using CardsPal’s technology.”

About utu

utu is a travel technology company on a mission to enrich the tax-free shopping experience. Leveraging over 27 years of sector expertise, co-founders Asad and Ameer Jumabhoy sought to create a platform that firmly positions tourists at the heart of the international shopping experience. By making use of innovative cross-border rewards technology, utu is able to reward travellers for every tax-free shopping transaction across 50 countries and with any VAT Refund Operator (VRO). utu is changing the world of tax-free shopping, transforming a once administrative process into a more rewarding experience for everyone involved – brands, VROs and tourists.

SC Ventures

SC Ventures is a business unit that provides a platform and catalyst for Standard Chartered to promote innovation, invest in disruptive financial technology and explore alternative business models.

For more information, please visit and follow SC Ventures on LinkedIn.

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