The old boys network is still as strong as can be in online travel and elsewhere. It shows up in several ways, although it was far from a decisive factor, in the pending Vacasa SPAC deal. But those decades-old ties sure didn't hurt, either.
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Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, Executive Editor and online travel rockstar Dennis Schaal will bring readers exclusive reporting and insight into the business of online travel and digital booking, and how this sector has an impact across the travel industry.
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As I traced the ties among Hotwire alum that run through the pending Vacasa SPAC deal, I was thinking I’d pay to try the game if a software geek took a database of former and present executives and created the online travel version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
As background, some of the things you need to know to appreciate where this is going are that in 1999 Texas Pacific Group partner and now TPG Pace Chairman Karl Peterson took a $75 million investment from Texas Pacific Group and major airlines, and founded Hotwire, a discount travel site, to compete against Priceline.com.
Some 22 years later, in April 2021, Peterson, who is senior partner at private equity firm TPG and board chairman of the newly minted TPG Pace special purpose acquisition company, made the initial approach to Joe Osnoss, managing partner of Vacasa investor Silver Lake, about the potential to merge with the property management company and take it public, according to a financial filing.
The Venn diagram of relationships that comes into focus from these disclosures underscores the power of relationship-building in online travel over the years, and how it has its mutual benefits.
Peterson knew a ton about Vacasa, in part, because he invested in TurnKey, a rival property management company that Vacasa acquired for $619 million in April. TurnKey happened to be co-founded in 2012 by T.J. Clark and John Banczak, who worked with Peterson at Hotwire as general counsel and director of airline, car and global distribution systems, respectively.
In another twist, it’s also interesting to point out that while Banczak worked on global distribution system issues at Hotwire a couple of decades ago, Peterson went on to lead one, Sabre, where he currently serves as board chairman.
Because of his personal investment in TurnKey, Peterson now owns 0.222 percent of Vacasa’s equity, and therefore didn’t vote on the pending merger of Vacasa and his TPG Pace SPAC.
In other overlapping ties, in 2003 Peterson sold Hotwire for $685 million to Barry Diller’s IAC, which owned Expedia and spun it out into a public company in 2005. Carl Shepherd, co-founder of HomeAway, which Expedia acquired for $3.9 billion in 2015, was a member of the TurnKey board before Vacasa bought it.
TurnKey co-founder Banczak, a Hotwire alum, worked with Shepherd at HomeAway as general manager.
Gregg Brockway, a Hotwire co-founder who worked as chief product officer under Peterson and alongside Clark and Banczak there, likewise served on the TurnKey board.
To round out some of the Hotwire connections to the looming Vacasa SPAC deal, former Tripadvisor Chief Marketing Officer Barbara Messing, who was a Hotwire vice president for four years in its early years, was recently named to the Vacasa board.
This web of interwoven career ties — and there are plenty of others that could be highlighted — doesn’t mean that TPG Pace is merging with Vacasa/TurnKey because the principals used to share water cooler gossip at Hotwire or TurnKey. TPG Pace, according to a financial filing, vetted five other potential companies for its SPAC merger ambitions and decided on Vacasa because that’s where the upside was considered greatest.
But the old boys network in travel is still an ongoing reality. These deep personal connections sure didn’t hurt.
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