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Qatar Takes Big Stake in American Express’ Business Travel Unit, With $900 Million Deal

Skift Take

This joint venture sets up a whole new dynamic for American Express Global Business Travel, which can trim its exposure and take advantage of a funding infusion.

— Dennis Schaal

In a transaction that’s been subject to negotiation for more than six months, Qatar would become a leading force in a $900 million deal to become a 50% joint venture partner with American Express in its Global Business Travel unit.

American Express Global Business Travel has 14,000 employees and, according to Travel Weekly’s Power List, it did $29.2 billion in 2012 gross billings, second only to Expedia Inc.’s $34 billion. American Express’ consumer travel business is not part of the deal, which is expected to close in the second quarter subject to regulatory approvals.

The investor group was led by Certares, which includes the Qatar Investment Authority through its Qatar Holding LLC subsidiary, and funds managed by Certares itself, Blackrock and Macquarie Capital.

Under the proposed deal, Certares founder Greg O’Hara would serve as chairman of the joint venture, which would keep using the American Express Global Business Travel brand, and Bill Glenn, most previously president of Global Commercial Services at Amex, would serve as president and CEO of the joint venture.

The joint venture is part of a broad restructuring that American Express undertook starting last year. American Express, which would contribute its technology, relationships and customer service to the new enterprise, says it would use a “substantial” portion of the gain from the transaction for growth initiatives.

H.E. Ahmad Al-Sayed, CEO of Qatar Investment Authority, said the Amex business travel operation has “clear benefits for our investment portfolio, across multiple regions and sectors.”

American Express says it intended to establish commercial agreements with the joint venture to ensure that clients who use American Express corporate cards would not be subject to service disruptions because of the new corporate structure.

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