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Northstar Travel Media has an abysmal record in digital media. For NTM to now try to hawk an SaaS reservations platform to its travel advertising clients will be an extremely tough sell. Hardly confidence-inspiring.
In the latest instance of a travel media business getting into the travel and technology business, Northstar Travel Media took a majority stake in Inntopia, a 13-year-old travel company that provides reservations services mostly to the ski industry, but also to destination services and tour operators.
Trevor Crist, Inntopia’s founder and CEO, tells Skift that Inntopia has been bootstrapped since its founding, and in the latest transaction all friends and family who had invested in the company were bought out.
Crist, who will stay on as CEO, said he retains a substantial, although minority, stake in the company. The precise composition of the new board has not been determined, Crist said, but he will remain a board member, and Tom Kemp of NTM, as well as representatives from Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest, will join the board.
PhoCusWright founder Philip Wolf, who sold his company to NTM in 2011, was a member of the Inntopia board, but left the board several months ago, Crist says.
“The addition of Inntopia is a transformational strategic investment for our company,”
says Tom Kemp, CEO of Northstar Travel Media, which owns PhoCusWright, Travel Weekly, Business Travel News and several other publications.
“Now, with the addition of Inntopia, we are able to offer our clients and partners access to state-of-the-art online booking tools for travel agents and direct sales channels,” Kemp said.
NTM’s acquisition of a travel tech company has broad parallels with Gannett, which owns USA Today and recently completed the purchase of HotelMe, a hotel booking site, and has acquired several travel startups over the last few years.
NTM, on the other hand, has had an abysmal record on the digital front, and failed in an attempt to launch a consumer travel site several years ago.
The Inntopia acquisition also sets up conflicts for NTM which could conceivably provide reservations services to suppliers, who will compete against other NTM clients.
Although Inntopia’s major business is in offering ski reservations services to ski operators and resorts, it also makes its reservations system and services available to tour and activities providers, and has a commission tracking service for travel agents.
The plan is for NTM to use its extensive travel industry relationships to begin offering reservations services on a software as a service basis to travel companies.
Crist of Inntopia says the company plans to use the NTM investment to expand its ski reservations business internationally, and to broaden its services into other verticals such as golf and theme parks.
NTM, Crist said, was looking to get into the reservations space, and decided to buy rather than build.
Crist said the deal with NTM enabled existing investors to cash out, and gives Inntopia the opportunity to scale the business.