16 experts advise on what’s to come this year.
American Express has acquired artificial
intelligence-powered personal travel assistant-tech provider Mezi after a successful
pilot for Amex card members launched last spring. The tech company was not
at liberty to disclose the pilot at the time but bundled the Amex partnership
announcement with Mezi's first travel management company partnership news.
With the close of the acquisition, Mezi is a wholly-owned
subsidiary of American Express but will operate independently with its own
leadership. Founders Swapnil and Snehal Shinde will keep their respective roles
as chief executive and chief technology officers. Managed travel veteran and
innovator Johnny Thorsen remains onboard as VP of global strategy and partnerships.
Those partnerships, however, may shift as Mezi narrows its
focus to AskAmex, moving out of the pilot phase and into a full product for
American Express. "When it comes to existing TMC clients, we will
continue," said Swapnil Shinde. For at least the next six months, however,
Mezi will not take on additional clients. Instead, Shinde said, "We are
working on scaling up AskAmex," which already provides and exposes
features that are unique to the card provider, including access to Amex's Fine
Hotels & Resorts collection, as well as dining experiences. "We are
working on several other features that will be part of AskAmex," said
Mezi focused on consumer travel from the get-go, as a $9
million investment from American Express Ventures formed the vast majority of
its $11.8 million Series A funding in July 2016. Mezi continued in that
vertical with the Amex pilot even as it homed in on the TMC market last spring.
Having been acquired by Amex, Mezi is taking a different path from many
personal travel assistant startups like
Lola; Lola began in the consumer market and then pivoted to business
travel, acknowledging that AI works better when a traveler uses the tool more
Shinde said Amex card members, however, are different from the
day-to-day consumer who may travel once or twice a year. "They pay for the
Platinum Card, for example, because the travel benefits on that card are
unprecedented. In targeting these travelers, we are still targeting frequent
travelers," said Shinde.
Whether Mezi's focus will shift permanently, Shinde said,
it's too early to say. "The entire platform will be available [to our
current TMC partners] to use just as it was before," he said. "We
will soon get time to refocus on the road map, but for now we have some pretty
aggressive deadlines for AskAmex and a lot of things to achieve there."
Marc Casto, CEO of Mezi TMC launch partner Casto Travel, extended his congratulations to the travel tech startup. "We're excited for Mezi and view the acquisition as
validation for what the company has created," said Casto. "Going forward,
we understand Amex will be the deciding factor on how developments take
place. I would encourage them to continue to develop the product for the future
needs of the travel agency community," he added, noting the developments around
New Distribution Capability that are poised to change the corporate travel
market. "We are confident that Amex sees the tremendous opportunity in this space."
This article has been updated to include Casto Travel CEO Marc Casto's comments. BTN also reached out to Mezi TMC launch partner
Adelman Travel, but the company was not immediately available for
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