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TravelPerk's Taunay-Bucalo discusses:
Coming off a stream of acquisitions, corporate travel management platform TravelPerk reported that its recurring revenue has increased tenfold since 2020. Those acquisitions have included U.S.-based NexTravel, which added more than 700 U.S. client organizations to the platform, and the subsequent acquisition of Click Travel, which brought a portfolio of 2,000 clients with more than £300 million in annual business travel spend to TravelPerk. Now about one year into the latter acquisition, TravelPerk chief revenue officer Jean-Christophe Taunay-Bucalo spoke with BTN executive editor Michael B. Baker during the recent Business Travel Show Europe in London for an update on integration progress as well as a look at how TravelPerk plans to navigate upcoming global economic challenges.
BTN: How well equipped are you to handle the recovery rate right now?
Jean-Christophe Taunay-Bucalo: The choice we made at the beginning of Covid, to be [one of] the only [companies] that didn't lay off anybody—we actually hired people during that period—it really felt like when you go all-in in poker. Either we're going to be really big on the other side of it, or we're out. Either people will say it's a genius move or a terrible move. There's no in-between. When the rebound that is happening in travel is very sharp, we are a little more ready, but nonetheless, it's still very complex, because the overall supply of our industry is not doing particularly well. So, the number of interactions you have on every booking is much higher. That's our core focus right now: Automating a lot of the post-bookings—cancellations and modifications—because there is so much of it because of the disruption.
BTN: Where are you with the Click Travel integration?
Taunay-Bucalo: NexTravel was a good acquisition, but it's nowhere near the size of Click. Click is a huge team, a huge brand on the U.K. market and fantastic technology, so we've spent the last year integrating the people and integrating what was unique to the Click technology into the TravelPerk platform. Click had, and now TravelPerk has, a very unique train value proposition. They have Open Rail, so they built their own train vertical, not using anybody else. We took this technology, repurposed it a little bit, and now it's what's powering our train [offerings] in the TravelPerk platform. We did the same for a lot of things that were absolutely fantastic in the Click platform, and we integrated them. Then, we have 250 people to integrate. We kept everybody and want to make sure they find their place in the organization together, and that takes time and effort.
BTN: What's the timeline for completion?
Taunay-Bucalo: We'll probably be done by the end of this year. With NexTravel, within three months we were done, but it takes longer with Click because it's a damn good platform, and as a consequence, we got a lot of customer feedback that they love our platform, but this was really good at Click, so we'll add it in. We really want to have one platform, for our customers to have one platform to get the best of the world, and that's what we deliver to the customer. We don't want to be a conglomerate or a group with twenty different brands. That doesn't mean we migrate everyone on day one. It might take us one, two or three years to migrate everybody. We did the same when we acquired Susterra and Albatross. We took the platform, rebuilt a few things and put it in the platform itself.
The biggest change we've seen post-Covid is the volume of booking. When we look at customers where they were before Covid, they went back to about 85 percent on average. But the type of booking we do is very different.”
BTN: Are there still more pieces you are looking to acquire?
Taunay-Bucalo: Yes, definitely. One of the big pieces we look at is everything around the future of work. The biggest change we've seen post-Covid is the volume of booking. When we look at customers where they were before Covid, they went back to about 85 percent on average. But the type of booking we do is very different. You have fewer road warriors going around doing 160 days on the road, but now you have more people who will do two or three bookings per year. A lot of companies that went to full remote still need to meet at least two or three times a year. Now you have engineers, customer care agents that suddenly will travel, people who have never traveled before. All this new type of travel means new product for us. That's why we created TravelPerk Events, that's why we partnered with WeWork recently. We see the way business travel exists, and the reason why it exists, there will always be point to point, but now you have a lot of people from multiple places going to one specific place. That, in terms of technology, is very different. It's not the same concept. That means also we look a lot at micro-mobility, long-term stay, office space. Right now, we do everything through partnerships, and then we might do a few of those things in the future.
BTN: Are these new travelers higher-touch than the average business traveler?
Taunay-Bucalo: They are higher-touch if you don't do your job right. We have a team, the activation team, and their only job is to improve the experience when you use the platform for the first time. What we found out that with a lot of infrequent customers, any friction you put on them the first time they come, they are going to contact you, and you don't want that. We are a tech company. We are happy to have amazing service, but we'd rather limit it to the minimum amount possible.
BTN: What is your current rate of client acquisition?
Taunay-Bucalo: Our volume of transaction and our revenue is five times bigger than it was pre-Covid, so it has absolutely skyrocketed. The main reason is during Covid time, no disrespect to all our friends here, most companies just hibernated. They let go of their people. We stayed out there. We acquire a different type of customer: retail, manufacturing and shipping, because they were the only people traveling during this period. Then, on the other side of it, we are five times bigger.
BTN: Do you think the current level of growth will be sustained given the economic and geopolitical challenges ahead?
Taunay-Bucalo: What we have seen is our average price per trip has increased by almost 30 percent between pre-Covid and now. Even when we adjust and just look those that were there pre-Covid. There is a real inflation in our market. My position is that to a certain extent, it makes sense. When I look at an airport or airline that struggled to hire staff—and I know that well, because a lot of the staff that work for TravelPerk as a travel consultant used to work for airports, airlines or hotels—they are not very well paid and did not have very good working conditions, so no wonder they don't want to go back to that job. This low salary and bad working position is the reason why you can do Barcelona to London for £10. Frankly, that is not available anymore, and that might be a good thing for the planet and a good thing for the employee. In order to deliver very cheap costs, we cut everywhere, and everybody is waking up now and saying, "OK, these people don't want to work 60 hours a week to be paid 20,000 per year. They want a decent salary and decent working conditions." That will push the inflation up on top of geopolitical and price of oil, and that might not be a bad thing. Does it impact us? It's a bit of a wash. In business travel, the price sensitivity is not that high.
BTN: Where does sustainability rank in current client priorities?
Taunay-Bucalo: At the moment, the second kind of long-term pressure we see is everything around sustainability. So far, our approach is we invest a lot in it, even if the customer demand is not there. We invest more than what our customer asks us to do. Our view is that at some point, whether it's through consumer or regulation, the market will catch up, and we don’t want to wake up in five years and have done nothing with it. That's why we keep investing and keep acquiring companies.
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