Riyadh-based peer-to-peer vacation rental marketplace Gathern has raised USD 6 million in a Series A round led by Saudi’s leading VC STV, the company said in a statement on Monday. The existing investors, including Vision Ventures, 500 Startups, Naef Sultan AlAthel, and ARG Limited also participated in the round. This is the largest financing round for a woman-led startup in Saudi Arabia. Gathern had previously raised an undisclosed amount of money in a seed round in 2018.
Founded in 2016 by Latifa Altamimi and Faisal Alanazi, Gathern started as a domestic chalet booking platform. It continued to expand into other types of properties and evolved into a peer-to-peer vacation rental marketplace with a presence in over 100 cities in the Kingdom, including Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Abha, Al-Baha, Taif, Al-Ula, and Umluj. In addition to chalets, it can be used to book rooms, apartments, villas, resorts, camps, farms, and yachts for short stays.
In a statement, the Saudi startup said that it has the capacity to host 1.2 million guests per month, adding that its top hosts earn over SAR 60,000 (USD 16,000) every month. What makes Gathern different from a host of similar local and international platforms operating in Saudi Arabia is that it is licensed by the Ministry of Tourism as a private vacation rentals marketplace. Gathern received the license from the Saudi ministry in July last year. A property owner in the Kingdom is normally required to obtain an individual permit if they want to rent out their property for short-term rentals but by using Gathern, they can list their property and host guests without applying for permits.
The Middle Eastern country is investing billions of dollars in different tourism initiatives as part of its efforts to diversify its revenue sources and reduce its dependence on oil exports. According to a statement by Gathern, it aims to welcome 100 million international and domestic visitors by 2030, which could turn it into one of the top five tourist destinations globally. The country already receives millions of visitors every year for Hajj and Umrah, and with the tourist visa that it recently introduced, the number of international visitors is expected to increase significantly, added the statement.
COVID-19 has put international tourism on pause for now in this part of the world, but once the recovery starts, Gathern could benefit greatly from the government’s focus on this sector.
Latifa Altamimi, co-founder and CEO of Gathern, in a statement, said, “We are happy to have STV, as well as existing investors Vision Ventures and 500 Startups, onboard in our journey as we continue to grow our proposition across the country. Saudi Arabia has a renewed vision for its tourism sector, with both domestic and international tourism seeing significant support.”
“With Gathern, we look to offer a different experience from the traditional travel experience by providing unique tourist residences from actual residents. This allows anyone to explore the real culture and cities in Saudi Arabia. If you become a host on our platform, you simply list your villa, apartment, farm, caravan, room, chalet, camp, or yacht, which allows you to earn significant additional income,” she added.
Ahmad Alshammari, a partner at STV, said, “We are incredibly excited to partner with Gathern—it is our first investment in the travel space and the largest ever investment in a female-led Saudi startup. We believe that Latifa and the Gathern team have the right engine to tackle this fast-growing market with a fresh approach. They have proven themselves to be incredibly nimble and resilient during COVID-19, where they grew significantly despite the global challenges. We are excited to see what the future holds.”
This article was originally published on MENAbytes.