Six months after Greg Webb became CEO
of Travelport in August 2019, COVID-19 emerged to
wreak havoc on the travel industry, bringing many elements of it to a
standstill. But Travelport has been plowing ahead with changes, offloading
businesses including Locomote and eNett,
the company and launching Travelport+
as a single environment to replace its legacy systems, Galileo, Apollo and
Webb has also rebuilt the C-suite, starting with naming
his former Sabre colleague John
Elieson as COO.
Underlying all of these changes is a vision the company
describes as “reinventing travel retailing” and positioning Travelport to be “the
best multi-source content aggregator
in the world.”
Last week at Travelport’s “Future
of Retail” customer event in Dubai, PhocusWire sat down separately with Webb and
Elieson to find out more about the company’s plans, including reaction
to recent speculation about an IPO, how the company is looking to grow and thoughts
on topics including NDC, hospitality and innovation.
have been edited for brevity.
I think we have
to start with the topic of the war in Ukraine. Travelport,
along with Sabre and Amadeus, has removed Aeroflot’s fares from its system.
How are you evaluating next steps as far as your business in Russia?
Webb: We operate directly in Russia so our first concern was,
are all of our employees safe? Secondly we operate through an operator in
Ukraine, and we were equally concerned about the employees of our operator. I
was shocked and appalled at the actions Russia has taken against Ukraine. It’s
horrific. The decision we made is we didn’t want to support any state-owned
entity. At the same time, we also didn’t want to hurt the people of Russia or
the people of Ukraine by any action we took unilaterally, because it’s clear
that this war is not a war of the entire country of Russia; it’s the war of maybe
a single man or a small group inside Russia.
As an example, we’ve tried to support the booking of non-state
owned entities, because what we’ve seen is a significant increase in one-way
flights out of Russia to other places. We don’t want to keep people from
leaving Russia if they are trying to get out. So I think it’s an evolving
situation, and we’ll have to continue to monitor the direction this goes. And
obviously we’re on the side of humanity, so whatever it takes to help people
more broadly, we’re willing to do.
During her presentation, Travelport CMO Jen Catto talked about
survey the company conducted that found consumers still find shopping for
travel very complex and frustrating. Part of the solution, she says, is
reinventing the PNR into an open system for sharing itinerary data. Tell us
more about that idea.
Webb: It’s really a broader topic around the fact this is an
industry that has built up, over time, the need to share information. There’s almost
no industry in the world that has a need to share information more than travel.
If you think about interline agreements, codeshare agreements, the fact that as
a traveler when you book a trip the airline knows about their part of it today,
the hotel knows about their part of it, the car rental company know about their
part, the cruise line potentially knows about their part - but none of them
know about all of it. And so there’s a need to be able to share that
information across the network.
But today there’s a very intricate structure around how we
share information. Some of what’s happened with NDC and the direction we’re
going, is pulling away from sharing information. It’s trying to hold
information more inside individual networks, which goes against everything else
you see on the internet, everything else that you see happening in other evolving
industries, which is more about opening up the information-sharing capability of
We tend to believe that over time, because of consumer behavior,
the need to be more open with data and more available with the ability for
multiple parties to be able to access the same information on the same platform
will become more prevalent.
So what does that mean for NDC?
Webb: If NDC delivers on its promise, which was first to be
a new standard, a new way to do things, then it could be extraordinarily
helpful. Unfortunately, it’s almost the opposite of a standard. It’s been
implemented differently by almost every airline that has gone down an NDC path.
The fact is we are in an industry that is data rich, rich, rich.
John Elieson - Travelport
If it delivers on the promise that it was supposed to, which
is it will allow airlines to better craft offers to the end traveler in a way that’s
consumable, bookable and personalizable in a different way so that I get a
different offer than you do on the same flight that has benefits I desire as a traveler,
I think that’s good. I think that will allow consumers to make better buying
choices. But until it delivers on the
idea of giving information that allows you to make a better a buying choice, then
it’s just adding complexity to the industry.
In the past, accommodation has been seen as a being a big
driver of growth for Travelport – is that still the case?
Webb: We still see hospitality as both an opportunity for Travelport
and also where we have a competitive advantage with our rich content and
branding platform. We sell experience in the travel industry, and hospitality
is probably the one that is most differentiated, in terms of the room, the
amenities, the opportunity to cross sell, upsell.
There’s only so much you can do with an airline seat, but there’s
a lot you can do with a hotel room in terms of the experience and I think that will
continue to be something we focus on which is allowing hoteliers to optimize
their opportunity to sell based on the quality of their offering, and that’s
both on the business side and on the leisure side.
In May 2019, Travelport
became a private company – again - this time owned by affiliates of Siris
Capital Group and Evergreen Coast Capital Corporation, the private equity
affiliate of Elliott Management Corporation. What are the pros and cons of
being private versus being public, and is it true you’re now considering an
published that but I think they’ve gotten it quite wrong. We’re pretty
happy with the capital structure we have today and being privately owned. If at
some point it makes sense for Travelport to be back in the public market we
will of course look at that as an option.
And I can only say that both Siris Capital and Elliott
Capital/Evergreen have been so supportive during the pandemic. During a time
when the industry was devastated, it would have been pretty easy for somebody
to get really concerned about the future of the business. In their case, they’ve
been completely behind it. They believe in the future of Travelport, and they
believe in the future of what we are doing and in fact encouraged us to
continue to invest in Travelport+, encouraged us to continue to push
forward with our rebranding, encouraged us to push forward with our change to
our go-to-market structure. So it’s been great being privately owned during the
pandemic. At some point, as it makes sense to be back in the public market, we’ll
look at that when the time comes.
What would it take to “make sense” to be back in the public market?
Webb: I think it’s as simple as, as we begin to see recovery
of the travel industry then we would be able to explain pretty clearly why Travelport
as a public company would be very attractive to investors. And at that point of
course we’d look at options.
But at this point, the company in total is fundamentally
different than when Siris and Elliot took us private. Almost 85% of the
management team is new, our go-to-market structure is completely revamped. The
underlying culture of the company is dramatically different. We have during the
downturn, from the ground up, restructured the company and taken out a
significant amount of cost - and improved our performance. So it wasn’t a cost-cutting
exercise, it was just we want to operate the company differently, and it’s
proven to be very successful.
We’ve picked up a good bit of business during that
time period. I think the market at some point will recognize we are a fundamentally
different company than we were in 2019 and one they should pay attention to
because the future looks very bright.
John, your role at Travelport is overseeing strategies around growth, sales and
mergers and acquisitions. What is your thinking about growing the company?
Elieson: Because of the maturity of our business, meaning
there’s so much business in our current portfolio, any growth strategy has to
have as its foundation a retention strategy. That was Travelport’s challenge in
years gone by. While they continued to win some portion of business that was
available, it was the business they were losing that kept them from having a
We’ve spend a lot of energy listening to our customers,
talking to our customers and shoring up how we interact with our customers, so our
retention rates are at an all-time high. That has to be the beginning of growth
otherwise you’re just replacing, you’re not really growing. So retention is in
a really healthy place. We’d like 100%, but we’re at 98%, so we’re in a good
Then secondly you’ve got to win business as it comes up.
And we’re winning at a really good click, five times what we lose. So when we
got out for bid and compete with our competitors, we are winning and that’s
great. And a third way you can grow is with the large side-by-side agencies and
making sure those relationships are strong.
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The reason all three of these are so important is because retaining
business means that we’ve kept our brand promise over time. The side-by-side agencies
mean that when compared to our competitors in a dynamic environment, we’re
winning. And then when we win new business out in the market that means people
believe in our future vision and direction. It’s so important that we be
successful in all three of these. That’s a healthy company.
Beyond the core GDS transactions, are there other ways that
Travelport can grow?
Elieson: You may notice that in our M&A activities, it’s
really been divestments. We’ve spent some energy over the last year and a half
or so focusing our portfolio. Are some of these businesses really business we should
be in? Are they areas that help our customers or have they become distractions?
So you’ve seen us move out of several businesses recently.
And at the same time we are looking for acquisitions that
can accelerate on our path to our vision. We’re not looking to change our
vision, to have a broader value proposition. We’ve considered it, but so far
the answer has been no, the vision is right, let’s stay focused. But where we
can find partners that will accelerate the achievement of that vision, we are
definitely open-minded to that and continue to be vigilant looking for those
As you're thinking about M&A opportunities, what types of
solutions interest you the most?
Elieson: Analytics. The fact is we are in an industry that
is data rich, rich, rich. We do billions of shopping APIs every week. There’s
lots of data. And the companies that can help make sense of it, so we can be better
retailers, or service customers better, or even supply better – better at matching
supply with demand - there’s a lot of power yet to be unlocked.
That’s something I’m watching closely through an M&A
lens. Who is out there making sense of the massive amounts of data that is out
there in the travel industry. It’s central to our vision and it kind of fits all
elements of the ecosystem – travelers, bookers, suppliers.
* The reporter's attendance at the event was supported by