Industry veteran Mark Walton is using Spotnana’s new booking technology to power his latest venture, Solutions Travel. Will its software deliver?
A former executive at Orbitz is launching a corporate travel agency in partnership with Spotnana — the secretive technology startup backed by Concur co-founder Steve Singh.
Mark Walton, who was previously vice president, strategy and account management at Orbitz for Business, has started Solutions Travel, which will target mid-size corporations. The Chicago-based agency will exclusively use software provided by New York headquartered Spotnana.
The launch is notable for several reasons.
It’s the first time Spotnana has publicly named a customer agency that is adopting what it calls its “travel-as-a-service platform.” Spotnana offers a white-label solution for other agencies to use, as well as working directly with corporations itself — whose names it doesn’t disclose.
“It’s a consumption based model for travel management companies, so we can power their infrastructure end-to-end,” said Spotnana CEO and founder Sarosh Waghmar, who was named a Skift Corporate Travel Innovator in 2018 and 2019. “This is an example of the first one where it’s coming to light.”
It’s also notable as Solutions Travel launches just weeks before American Airlines switches over 40 percent of its airfares to direct channels, including so-called New Distribution Capability.
Many major airlines, like American, want to pull their content out of traditional global distribution systems, which a lot of corporate travel agencies rely on, to these newer channels to cut costs and take more control over the ancillaries they offer, particularly to businesses that can bundle extras like WiFi and premium seating together.
Spotnana has raised more than $100 million to build a new architecture for the business travel industry. It wants to create an open platform, devoid of “biased” content, meaning flights or hotels that are recommended because there are financial incentives involved.
It also developed “personalization features” with American Airlines in September last year.
Not Just a Tech Company
Solutions Travel aims to be a full-service agency. Walton said business travel was coming back and companies still need help with three key areas: service, savings and duty of care.
“I don’t want the notion or thought that Solutions Travel is just a technology company,” he said. “And nor is Spotnana. We are a full-service travel management company, providing everything from consultative services to our clients, 24/7 service by qualified agents, multi-lingual, omnichannel. However you want to communicate with us, you’ll be able to.”
He said the agency will have a competitive advantage because it can offer the often cheaper airfares through direct connects and New Distribution Capability, courtesy of the connections Spotnana has built.
Despite many travel agencies investing heavily in consultants to deal with complex travel planning and disruptions, Walton said the technology lets travelers book, cancel or amend their trips easily themselves.
“The beauty is, with the online adoption rate Spotnana’s already experiencing, and what we will at Solutions, on a pure agent-to-transaction basis, we’re not going to need as many agents because so much of this is self-service,” he said.
Walton has also advised the likes of Microsoft, General Motors and Proctor & Gamble on their travel programs during his times at Consulting Strategies, so he hopes to draw on that experience to win business through a consultative approach. “We’ve got a lot of business in the pipeline,” he added. “We have already developed supplier relationships in the marketplace that are sending us leads. We have our own sales organization so we’re out prospecting. We’ve got a pretty well developed sales and marketing strategy.”
Walton has also crossed paths with Singh’s former company Concur before, when Orbitz for Business partnered with the expense company in 2014, calling it a “natural fit.”
Times have changed, though. The launch of a travel agency that relies so much on one provider is a leap of faith considering the relative newness of the technology. But when American Airlines does begin using other channels at scale in April, the industry will see how effective, or not, this kind of technology proves.
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Photo credit: Solutions Travel is based in Chicago. Erol Ahmed / Unsplash