Business trip booking platform TravelPerk has bagged another rival -- picking up UK-based Click Travel. Terms of the deal are not being disclosed but we're told it's the third -- and largest -- acquisition for TravelPerk to date.
The Barcelona-based startup has been on a bit of a shopping spree since the pandemic crisis hit Europe last year, picking up risk management startup Albatross in summer 2020 to bolster resilience to COVID-19's impacts, before going on to acquire US-based NexTravel in January to expand its presence in the US market.
The latest acquisition deepens TravelPerk's UK and European business, adding Click Travel's 2,000+ SME clients (which includes the likes of Five Guys, Red Bull and Talk Talk) to its customer base -- which will total just over 5,000 post-acquisition.
The UK company handles some £300M in business travel for its client base, which will bolster TravelPerk's revenues going forward. The latter now bills itself as the "leading" travel management platform for the SME market globally and the UK as a whole.
“We are a global travel management platform but our core markets are the US and Europe and we expect both markets to be our primary growth areas this year," said CEO and co-founder Avi Meir. "At the current moment, the US is our largest market due to the covid restrictions in the EU & UK.”
“Assuming travel restrictions won’t be imposed again, we expect to grow by 200% in 2022 with strong growth in our core markets in the US & EU," he added.
Click Travel, which is based in Birmingham, was founded all the way back in 1999 -- and appears to have raised relatively little venture capital over the years, per Crunchbase. However, in 2018, the veteran player participated in the government-backed Future Fifty scale-up program -- and also took in a "multi-million pound" investment from the UK-based Business Growth Fund.
Whether there will be any domestic hang-wringing over a high growth UK business being sold to a European rival remains to be seen.
In a statement on its sale to TravelPerk, CEO James McLean omitted to mention the pandemic's impact on the travel sector -- choosing instead to highlight what he couched as the pair's shared "mission" to reduce the cost and complexity of business travel.
“Those shared objectives, combined with the natural cultural fit between our two companies, means we are incredibly excited to bring our teams together. Combining TravelPerk’s industry-leading knowledge, technology, experience and first class customer support with our own is a powerful proposition and we can’t wait to get started," McLean added.
While Click Travel has focused on serving the UK market, TravelPerk has had a global focus from the start.
It has also attracted a large amount of external investment (totalling just under $300M) over its shorter run (founded in 2015).
Back in April, for example, it raised a $160M Series D round. It had also topped up its Series C round in July 2019 before the pandemic hit. So TravelPerk hasn't been short of funds to ride out the COVID-19 revenue crunch -- and as well as shopping for competitors it has also been able to avoid making any layoffs over the travel crisis.
Per a press release, capital to fund the Click Travel acquisition was provided by Boston-based investment manager, The Baupost Group.
TravelPerk's Meir remains bullish about the near-term prospects for growth in the business travel sector, despite ongoing concerns in Europe and the US about the more infectious 'Delta' variant of the virus which is contributing to surging rates of COVID-19 in some markets (including the UK) -- claiming it's already seeing green shoots of recovery in "key markets".
"TravelPerk is outgrowing the market pace and is already at above 2019 revenue figures," Meir told TechCrunch. “When it comes to the rest of the industry, the recovery of travel is well underway but moving at different speeds in different markets. For instance in the US, according to TSA Checkpoint figures, at the current rate of recovery the US travel market is expected to reach pre-pandemic volume at the end of August 2021.
"We anticipate the global market may take a little longer but are optimistic we will see close to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.”
“We’re one of the few players in the travel industry that continued scaling and growing since the beginning of the pandemic with a strategy that didn’t involve any layoffs," he also told us. “Since March last year, our strategy has been not to sit back but to be aggressive and invest massively in our product offering and in our global reach, so that we are in the best position possible to capitalise when travel makes its full recovery. Today’s news is a major part of that plan.
“We will aim to continue being aggressive in our growth strategy and we are open to more acquisitions if they make strategic sense and are aligned with our vision and culture.”
Per Meir, Click Travel and TravelPerk will initially continue to run as two independent platforms but he confirmed that an "eventual full integration" is planned -- with both set to operate under the TravelPerk brand in time.
The startup also says it will retain all Click Travel's staff -- denying it has plans to axe any jobs. It also intends to hold onto the company's Birmingham base -- having the city as another UK hub for its business (in addition to its existing London office).
“The 150 amazing people working for Click Travel were a big reason why we wanted to acquire the company, and were priced into the deal," said Meir. "We have no plans of redundancies. We rather aim to integrate the entire team into the TravelPerk Group."
Asked if TravelPerk might consider expanding its focus to also target the enterprise segment, he noted that it's seen interest from larger businesses -- and said he's "open" to the idea -- but for now Meir said TravelPerk remains fully focused on the SME market: "where we think there is the biggest need, and the biggest growth potential".
"That’s why this acquisition is so exciting for us; it makes us undoubtedly the leading travel management platform for SMEs globally," he added.
Flexibility and sustainability
Discussing how the pandemic has changed business travel, Meir highlighted two "important trends" he said TravelPerk will continue to invest it: Namely flexibility for bookings; and sustainability so environmental impact can be reduced.
TravelPerk plans to invest more than $100M in two key products in these areas (aka: FlexiPerk and GreenPerk), per Meir.
"We’ve noticed on our platform that travellers are booking closer to their departure date: Before the pandemic, trip searches were usually conducted between 7 and 30 days prior to the selected departure date," he said, elaborating on the importance of flexibility for the sector. "Now we are seeing most trip searches are for trips less than 6 days away. Flexibility is therefore one of the most in-demand perks in business travel. Travellers will rely on flexible fares to give them the peace of mind that they won’t lose money if they need to change or cancel a trip on short notice."
On sustainability, Meir said businesses are already looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and general environmental impact, while consumers are also wanting to make conscientious decisions to reduce carbon emission -- suggesting that train-based travel is set to gain ground (vs flights) as a result. (That might, ultimately, require some creative retooling of TravelPerk's logo -- which prominently features an airplane icon... )
"We expect to see significant interest in our carbon offsetting product, GreenPerk, as a result but we also expect to see changes in how people are choosing to travel," he said.
"For instance, rail is undoubtedly the more environmentally-friendly travel option. In fact, taking a train over a domestic flight can reduce an individual’s carbon emissions by about 84%. We have been building out our rail inventory for a number of years now and we expect train travel to be an increasingly popular business travel option for customers this year and next."
As for the changing mix of business-related travel in a pandemic-reconfigured world of remote work, Meir continues to argue that more businesses providing employees with remote working options will sum to more business travel overall.
"This might be bad news for the daily commute but it will result in more business travel," he suggested. "Whether they are going fully remote and 'working from anywhere', or operating on a hybrid model, distributed teams will need (and want) to come together. We believe there will be a new type of business trip -- one where team members will travel from different working hubs to get together for teambuilding and brainstorming sessions, for meetings with clients and colleagues, and even for 'bleisure' (business and leisure) trips."