Greg Webb, CEO
Webb became Travelport’s CEO in August 2019, shortly after the company went
back to private equity ownership in a $4.4 billion sale.
to joining Travelport, Webb was senior vice president and general manager of
Oracle Hospitality and before that spent 20 years at Sabre in a variety of executive
You’ve just completed your first six months as CEO of
Travelport. What’s been the most surprising thing to you as you’ve transitioned
into this role?
I think not just one; I would say that there been a number
of things. One is that I think I was surprised by the fact that we really have
an extraordinarily energized employee base. There's a hunger to win here that, candidly,
surprised me. It has been really refreshing. We have an employee base that really
wants to be meaningful in the travel space, that wants to deliver a
differentiated value to both buyers and sellers of travel.
And then secondly, I think from a technology perspective, Travelport
is in many ways more advanced than some of the other competitors in the market as
far as the capabilities that we bring to the table today. I’m really excited by
Not that we're not wanting to invest more - because we are - in
delivering on a technology value proposition to the industry that I think is
going to be meaningfully different from our competitors, but I’ve been really
happy to see the capabilities that have already been built. So the things the
organization has been working on for multiple years now was really uplifting
when I got here.
Travelport currently is the smallest of the three top global
distribution systems, in terms of revenue and number of employees. Does that
create an advantage for you as far as driving innovation and agility?
Yes I think for two reasons actually. One, we do not have
the anchor of running separately to the distribution business that we run, the
aggregation business that we run. We are not tied to delivering airline-specific reservation software.
Both of our major competitors are tied to the
fact that they have to live in the legacy airline PSS - passenger service
solution - world. We don’t have that anchor. So our ability to be agile in the
way we look at distribution moving forward gives us a huge advantage to move
more quickly, to be more agile, be more adaptive to the changing models that
exist out there.
And so when I think about the future of distribution - I’ve
always hated the GDS term because we are effectively an electronic exchange of buyers
and sellers of travel. Our goal should be to be the most effective method
for buyers and sellers to come together, and that should be by any source, any
capability, any technology, any structure. Because we’re not tied to the
legacy airline model, us building out capability around a multi-source content
engine to deliver content at any time in any way - I think our ability to do
that is significantly better than our competition.
For years there’s been debate as to whether it makes sense
for Travelport to maintain three core global distribution systems - Worldspan,
Galileo and Apollo - independently. Do you plan to continue running them
I do not. But it has nothing to do with the fact it has been
talked about before. I do plan to move to a next-generation platform that
provides that multi-source content capability, that really delivers on the
future of what we need to be as an aggregator in this space, which again is our
We have very supportive investors and sponsors that
realize where we need to go to become the most robust aggregation source in the
industry. That means that we need to be fastest, the most agile, the most capable.
In my honest opinion there’s too much focus on the “core” question - the focus should
be on what we are delivering in terms of next-generation functionality, and we absolutely
plan to do that. Certainly with that will come the fact that we won’t need
to have three different designators. It will be a Travelport platform moving
into the future.
What do you say to those that maintain, over time, there
will not be a need for three (four, if you count TravelSky) distribution
players for air tickets?
Well I don’t know - if Amadeus or Sabre wants to go out of business,
I’m fine with that.
Look, I think if you look at the marketplace we actually
are, despite the fact that we are currently the smallest – and for the record, I
don’t plan to be for long. But despite the fact that we are currently the
smallest in terms of market share, we actually provide what is the most diverse
profile of the GDSs. We are currently a third, a third, a third in terms of
geography – a third to the Americas, a third to EMEA and a third to Asia. We’re
a third, a third, a third in terms of TMCs, OTAs and the mid-market.
If you look at either of our competitors, they don’t slot
that well. I think, competitively, we are well structured in terms of the
markets that we serve, and I think we have huge opportunity to grow in each one
of those. The reality is the travel landscape continues to evolve, and I think
we will be faster to evolve than others.
What do you think is the future of the "full content
agreement" - the mainstay of the GDS contract with an airline?
I guess that's an open question. I've been in the industry for
20-plus years, and the conversations haven't really changed that much. They’ve
evolved a bit, but I'm not sure that they've changed. The reality is that I
don't think it's a discussion of content anymore as much as it’s a discussion
of economics, as well as the value proposition that an aggregator provides.
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I think that will continue to morph over time. As we can
provide data and analytics to suppliers that shows that we deliver more value
per booking, I think there will be no question that they will lean in on the
content side of things. I think if the industry isn’t able to show an
ongoing value proposition for how we deliver that, then certainly the content
agreements would be in question.
I think the reality is, if you look at the marketing term of
NDC - because that's really all it is - it's been used more to change the
commercial model rather than the distribution model. And so, when I look at it,
going forward, I say our job is to make sure that our suppliers feel like they
get value-added service from delivering capability and content through the Travelport
system. And that we continue to add to the capability, which allows them to
drive more revenue and get more on a per-unit basis per ticket than they get
through any other channel. If we do that, then the content question becomes less
So let’s talk more about NDC: What are you thoughts on the
opportunities and challenges it presents and its potential to transform air
I have three different points on NDC. The first is NDC was
created as a technology standard. That was the goal – create a new way for us and
others in the industry to be able to connect in what was supposed to be a new,
modern capability – despite that fact it was XML, which has been around for, at this
point, 25 years, so it’s not like it’s a new standard.
You already do a ton
of XML transactions on a daily basis. But it was supposed to be a tech standard. It hasn’t really
played out that way. All the people who have so far implemented something on an “NDC”
capability are doing it in different ways. So it’s not as much of a standard as
it should be.
From a standard perspective, I absolutely agree we need
to have a multi-source engine that feeds content to buyers in a way that helps
suppliers grow revenue on a per-unit basis and that helps buyers be able to
transact in the most efficient way possible. No question about it. If that
turns out to be NDC, that’s great.
All the people who have so far implemented something on an “NDC” capability are doing it in different ways. So it’s not as much of a standard as it should be.
Greg Webb - Travelport
The second point is NDC has become, for lack of a better
term, what CRM became in the '90s – everybody says it and nobody knows what it
means. I prefer to refer to it as travel retailing. How do we help suppliers
retail their products in a more effective way. And whether that’s via new ways to utilize our next generation trip services API or whether that’s our next generation Smartpoint desktop, ways in which... the desktop and the API set needs to allow suppliers to sell their products in different ways. We’re fully supportive of that idea that we want to provide
suppliers the ability to upsell, cross-sell and generate more revenue per
The last thing I’d say about NDC is the industry has
gotten a little bit lost in the discussion. It’s become more of an economic lever for
suppliers to use across the industry to try to drive, effectively, a cost move that flows money back to them from other parties. I
don’t know where that goes. But the reality is as long as we can continue to
show that we are delivering more value per transaction, on an ongoing basis, we
will acquire a really strong spot with our supplier partners.
In late January, WEX announced plans to buy eNett. What does that sale
– and the cash that will come once the deal closes - enable you to do?
I won’t comment too much on it, because obviously the
transaction is still pending and, from a regulatory perspective, it'll take a
good while for that to close. But certainly, it's a good outcome for Travelport.
We will obviously bring in proceeds from that sale and that will give us the
ability to look at our balance sheet and figure out how we put those dollars in
and what we do with those associated - whether or not that’s returned
to our current owners or sponsors, whether it's used on debt, whether it’s used
But obviously this is good for everybody, certainly good for eNett.
They get acquired by a larger player that gives them the ability to expand and it gives us greater capability. And we will have an ongoing relationship with
eNett and WEX in the virtual card space. It's actually very exciting for us.
What is now likely to be fastest-growing part of the business,
given the sale of eNett?
We are focused on the core of the business. If you look over
the history of where Travelport has been, no question we have been through some
times of turbulence, lost a couple of large key customers and it was largely at
my hand. But the future looks really bright. I believe firmly that our
ability to grow moving forward in the core distribution business is strong.
we will have dollars to invest. We will look to be acquisitive if we find opportunities
to expand revenue and earnings, based on where we think the industry is
going. We certainly have that flexibility. We have terribly supportive
sponsors that want to see this business grow and believe it can, so I feel very
comfortable about our opportunities. But we are certainly focused on the core
A few weeks ago you hired John Elieson to oversee strategies
around growth, sales and mergers and acquisitions. What will be some of his
priorities, and does this signal a new direction for Travelport?
I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been able to get John
to come over. He just left as the CEO of Radixx, and prior to that was a long-tenured
Sabre employee. John is literally one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever
worked with. He and I worked together a long time at Sabre, and strategically
he’s one of the best thinkers I’ve ever been around. He did a fantastic job of
taking Radixx from a place where it was truly a turnaround into just excellent performance,
obviously ending in its sale to Sabre.
I brought John in because he has a level
of operational discipline that you don’t find that often and just great
vision. His role is to help us focus the commercial organization, whether it’s
on the supply side or on the buy side, on trying to be as effective and
efficient as possible.
Along with that, he will look strategically at
what things we should be spending time on. Obviously I don’t have
enough time on a day-to-day basis to spend time looking at everything going on
in the environment. John will have time to look at, are there other adjacencies
we should be spending time looking at, are there other opportunities that we
should be exploring? What are the trends in the marketplace that we should be
trying to be early movers on? I couldn’t be more happy to have him.
You joined Travelport from Oracle where you ran the
hospitality business. What did you learn there that can be put to use at
I loved Oracle. It’s a fantastic company and the Oracle hospitality
business unit is an exciting one. They are by far the leading property
management system in the world for hotels. I felt good about the fact that I
left it in good hands with Alex Alt, who took over when I left.
I think some of the things I learned is Oracle has a significant
amount of operational discipline in the way they do things, in the way they
think about things. It’s a little different in that it’s more of a hardware/package
software business than a services business. I learned a lot from Mark
Hurd, rest in peace, on how to drive sales leadership and a real focus around
growth. That stuck with me. I certainly have brought that to Travelport, which is
what are the things we need to do to grow and don’t be scared to invest in
growth. And certainly, that's how I think about it.
Unlike Sabre and Amadeus that have signed on with ATPCO to
integrate Routehappy rich content, Travelport maintains its own Rich Content
and Branding product, with about 400 travel companies connected to it. What are
the pros and cons of having your own product?
We were just first. If you go back in history, Travelport kind
of got out in front of the competition on the rich content and branding side of
things. That doesn’t mean we won’t continue to look at options around how we
bring in the most relevant content from different sources. But even looking at
the current Routehappy components, we feel we have a greater set of content than
they do today and that gives us an advantage. We were just first to the
Candidly, the team here did a fantastic job of the way they’ve
instrumented the system. I works very efficiently, and it provides a
significant amount of additional capability that we think outstrips anything
else that exists right now. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t look at options
in the future.
Travelport is developing a blockchain-based solution for
hotel commission settlement, in partnership with BCD Travel, Hyatt and IBM.
What is the status of this effort and what are you thoughts about the potential
impact of blockchain on travel in the years to come?
I’ll be a little brief on the efforts just because we have
partners involved in that, but yes we continue to explore it. It’s an interesting
concept. Across travel there are a number of areas that would tend to lend
themselves toward a blockchain-like application. Whether it is commission
settlement, whether it is live inventory - anything that follows a transaction
through its life cycle appears to maybe have an opportunity for blockchain to
fall into that.
What I’d say so far is, in order for us to implement
anything that is meaningful in a long-term sense, it would mean getting industry
adoption across the board. Many times that means getting some of the regulatory
groups involved and other stuff. But I think blockchain as a whole, because we
are, as an industry, so transaction-based, I think there’s a huge potential for blockchain
as an underlying technology capability, as part of the way we build up that technology
stack and certainly something we are playing with right now. Because the ability
to stack transaction on top of transaction on top of transaction and keep track
of it, that’s 75% of the things that we do today.
Looking ahead to the next year, what are you top two or
Technological simplification; there are some things we need
to stop doing that will allow us to spend money on things we should be doing. A
real focus on telling our story: Travelport has been public, private, public, private,
back and forth – in some of that we lost our voice.
And lastly being fully
committed to ensuring that both our buyers and sellers understand where we are
headed and understand the value proposition that we bring to the table and why
they should feel extraordinarily excited to partner with us moving forward.
What does being a private company once more give the
business in terms of an advantage against its publicly listed competitors?
It gives us a significant amount of flexibility, not just
from a financial perspective, but it gives us a significant amount of flexibility
to be able to define a strategy, which we have. Certainly I have to go explain
it to my two sponsors, but I have to explain it to two people, and my
competitors have to explain it to thousands in the public marketplace. That
gives me a huge ability to move at significantly more speed than our
It also gives me investment opportunities, because I'm not
stuck on a quarterly earnings discussion. Certainly we need to deliver
value for our debt holders and for our sponsors, but that doesn't have to be on
a daily, weekly, monthly basis. We need to be able to tell a story that says, here's where we're going over the next three to five years and here's how we
You spent a long time - 20 years - at Sabre. How would you
describe the difference in cultures between it and Travelport?
It’s a little hard to answer. I would say Travelport’s a
little more British. We’re having to loosen them up a little bit, but we are
getting there - a CEO in a hoodie as opposed to a three-piece suit. But no, I
have been surprised at the amount of energy around the company. There is a
hunger to win here and real passion around our customers, which I’m proud of.
The commitment to the relationships that people have built with those customers
over a period of time is commendable. It’s hard to compare and contrast, but
it’s a really exciting place to be.
What advice do you have for young people just entering the travel
People ask me, over a period of time how do you manage your
career? The first answer to that is you can’t - the career is going to happen
how it happens. But you can do three things. The first is make sure you have a
network – make sure you meet people, make sure you have people that you
interact with on a regular basis, because it’s highly likely the next job you
have will come from someone in your network.
The second thing is always ask for
more. The reality is, the people who get ahead in this industry are the ones who
are going, “Hey, I’m already working 60 hours a week, but I heard you have a
special project. I’d love to be involved, I can pitch in if you need any help.”
And last, life’s a competition, so out-work your peers. If you want to continue
to progress, just be better. It’s not okay to be okay.
You’ve been very busy these first six months at Travelport,
traveling between Travelport’s U.K. headquarters to its U.S. base in Atlanta to
locations around the globe to meet with employees and customers. What’s your
best tip for staying energized while you travel?
Last year between Oracle and Travelport I did 427,000 miles -
which was a ton of fun. I would say two
things. One: exercise. Even when I’m tired, I’m a cyclist, so if I can get on
a bike, I will feel better even if I think I don’t want to do it and I’m dragging.
And the second thing is, get outdoors. I always feel better. Get some
non-purified air in your lungs. That makes me feel refreshed.
Oh, and eat some
fruit. For some reason fruit helps.
When you get free time, what do you like to do?
I do like to ride my bike. I’m a road cyclist. And I like to
golf. I’m sure my handicap right now is way too low for what my ability is because
I’ve played exactly one round of golf since I started at Travelport, which is
abnormal for me. I love to play golf, but I just have not had any time.
Lastly, I have two kids in college and one in high school, so I still like
to spend as much time with them as possible. I just don’t get to see them as much
as I wish I could.
More from our In The Big Chair series...
PhocusWire talks to leaders across the digital travel landscape.