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TravelPerk's Jean-Christophe Taunay-Bucalo talks:
Barcelona-headquartered corporate travel management provider TravelPerk kicked off the year in January by acquiring U.S.-based booking system provider NexTravel, and three months later closed a $160 million investment round. As the industry emerges from its Covid-19-driven shutdown and travel managers assess travel management company service models for the post-pandemic era, TravelPerk is positioned with an expanded stateside presence and significant financing in hand to fund further growth opportunities. TravelPerk chief commercial officer Jean-Christophe Taunay-Bucalo recently spoke with BTN technology editor Adam Perrotta about the company's recent milestones and planning for travel's comeback.
BTN: TravelPerk recently raised a considerable amount of funding. How do you plan to spend that money?
Jean-Christophe Taunay-Bucalo: The funding will be used to accelerate our mission to create the world's best travel platform. It will support our growth strategy, which is focused on expanding rapidly in the U.S. and Europe and doubling down on the product innovations that we have brought to market over the last 12 to 18 months. We have ambitious plans for both global expansion and product development, and we'll be pursuing these through a combination of hiring and acquisitions.
BTN: How have you integrated NexTravel since acquiring that booking provider in January?
Taunay-Bucalo: The integration has been progressing very well during what has been an incredibly busy time for the business. Our main focus has been on migrating NexTravel customers over to the TravelPerk platform, and we're almost all of the way there now. For us— aside from the obvious benefits of acquiring more market share—we've also enjoyed learning so many new things during the integration process from the NexTravel team's existing in-market expertise.
We have ambitious plans for both global expansion and product development, and we'll be pursuing these through a combination of hiring and acquisitions.”
BTN: There recently has been high-profile M&A activity in the TMC space. With the investment funding in place, are you planning additional acquisitions, whether of TMCs or other types of service providers?
Taunay-Bucalo: As the business travel industry prepares for recovery post-pandemic, we'll see increased consolidation within the market as providers … try and adapt to the changing needs of travelers. Travelers are going to want more flexibility and more choice, and they're going to care far more than before about safety and sustainability. We're consequently likely to see more movement in the market as travel management providers try to build or bring in the innovations and tech that they need to adapt to this new reality. … We aim to use our recent investment funding to further meet the changing demands of our customers and therefore will be making more acquisitions later this year, but I don't have any more specifics to share right now.
BTN: As the return of corporate travel appears to finally be around the corner, what are the most important ways in which your clients are looking for TravelPerk to support their return to the road?
Taunay-Bucalo: Over the last year, it's become clear that three things are now more important than ever for business travelers: flexibility, safety and sustainability. Flexibility, because travel still has a lot of friction due to the different restrictions and lockdowns, meaning that a trip could be canceled at really short notice. Safety, so that every traveler knows not only what specific health requirements are in place at their destination but also that they will get updates in real time if anything changes. Sustainability, because in this period businesses have been taking stock and realizing that we all have to do more in terms of our environmental impact, and of course travel is a big part of this.
We have been really focused on adapting to these new priorities and we updated our product and product roadmap to make sure we were addressing them. Our flexible booking tool FlexiPerk guarantees refunds on canceled trips at short notice; our risk-management API TravelSafe keeps travelers updated in real time on local health guidelines and restrictions; and GreenPerk, our sustainability tool, directly reduces carbon emissions through initiatives run by our partner, Atmosfair.
BTN: We've seen a few booking and travel management providers expand into offering their own in-house payment and expense tools over the past couple of years. Is TravelPerk interested in this service area, or will you stick to integrating with other providers in those areas?
Taunay-Bucalo: Expense management and travel have a strong link to each other, but expense management is still an incredibly fragmented market. Traditionally the three main approaches to solving this problem have been build, buy or partner. Of course, we've seen others in our industry who've decided to build an expense tool in-house within the business travel platform, but our belief is that by moving out of your area of expertise you can risk delays in delivery, bugs and product limitations. For us, integrations with our expense partners have made more sense. We feel that this shared knowledge and expertise delivers the best capabilities and experience for our customers.
We think sustainability should and will become a guiding principle in the industry, and we want to do as much as we can to help us get there.”
BTN: What's your best guess as to where corporate travel levels will be six months or a year from now?
Taunay-Bucalo: Travel is definitely coming back. We can see that already with the numbers. In the U.S. for instance, we can see that domestic leisure travel has almost returned to the levels we saw pre-Covid. In Europe it's a little less certain right now, as vaccine rollout isn't as fast, but you can look to other parts of the world and with some degree of certainty predict what the European recovery will eventually look like. We'll continue living in a stage of uncertainty probably for the next 12 months or longer, so we expect the overall global recovery in travel to be uneven for a while as different countries reopen at different times, meaning constantly changing guidelines and restrictions.
Our priority in this period is to build and improve products that will help our customers travel comfortably and safely. However, overall travel will make a full comeback, because if this pandemic has proved one thing it's that, yes, some more transactional meetings will remain on Zoom, but human beings crave that face-to-face interaction you can't get online, and the meetings that matter will continue to happen in person.
BTN: What do you think will be the next big thing in the industry? Once we've finally stopped talking about Covid-19, what will we be talking about instead?
Taunay-Bucalo: Before the outbreak of the pandemic, sustainability was a hot topic, as industry players realized we should and could be doing more to bring the environmental impact of business travel down. This is an ongoing issue that will only accelerate in the years to come.
Our sustainability offering, GreenPerk, was launched in February 2020, just before the pandemic—which, looking back, was not an ideal time to be launching something new. Even so, we saw an amazing reaction from our customers and desire to use this new tool. Ten percent of our entire volume is already carbon-negative, and we expect that to grow rapidly. We think sustainability should and will become a guiding principle in the industry, and we want to do as much as we can to help us get there.
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