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Steve Singh believes corporate travel is ready for new technology, and he believes the right company can displace the old ones.

Steve Singh, co-founder of Concur, and a group of firms have fully acquired the corporate travel agency Direct Travel. And they’re planning to release a new platform for customers later this year that combines several new technologies from Direct Travel and three other startups that Singh has a stake in.

The group — which includes firms Durable Capital Partners, Madrona Ventures, Top Tier Capital Partners, and Blackstone Credit & Insurance — have purchased the company from the private venture capital firm Antares Capital and other debt providers, Singh said.

Price and terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

Singh, managing partner of Madrona Ventures, is now executive chairman of Direct Travel.

Christal Bemont, who spent nearly 16 years at SAP Concur, most recently as chief revenue officer, is now the CEO of Direct Travel. As part of the deal, Ed Adams is retiring from his role as CEO of Direct Travel.

This is the second big corporate travel agency acquisition announcement recently. Amex GBT last week said it plans to acquire CWT for $570 million.

Direct Travel was founded in 2011 and is based in Denver, with 80 offices in North America and the UK. It has a total of about 1,800 employees.

Travel Weekly ranks the company among the largest corporate travel agents in the world.

It has more than 4,500 clients, mostly in the middle market, though they also include large companies such as PayPal. 

Direct Travel generates over $300 million in revenue annually, and it’s growing by about 10% each year, Singh said. 

“We think we can actually improve that growth rate to 15% to 20% over the course of the next year, and we think we can maintain that 15% to 20% growth rate for years to come,” Singh said in an interview with Skift. 

Singh sold Concur to SAP in 2014 for $8.3 billion.

What’s Next for Direct Travel

Singh and the other investors have been looking for acquisition opportunities in the corporate travel space for about a year, he said. 

He and the same group of firms have invested together in startups Spotnana, Troop, and Center. Singh is executive chairman of all four companies, and Madrona Ventures is the largest investor. 

The plan is to release a platform for Direct Travel customers that integrates the technologies and services of all four of these companies. Each company will continue operating independently, as well. 

Spotnana has raised over $100 million to rebuild the infrastructure of corporate travel agency bookings, away from the traditional global distribution systems and the incentives they provide to agents for booking certain products. In travel industry lingo, that’s what’s known as new distribution capabilities

Troop, which has raised around $20 million, is a platform meant to help companies plan, book, expense, and manage logistics for in-person meetings. 

Center, an expense management platform that provides corporate cards to clients’ employees, has raised a total of $140 million

The plan is that the single platform will also include AI integrations, including a trip planner that accepts prompts in natural language, and a way to automatically deliver options in response to travel disruptions. 

“What the corporate travel space is really due for is a transformation. The reality is this industry operates on legacy technology stacks, siloed information, disjointed experiences,” Singh said.

“We think that there’s an opportunity for a next-generation [travel management company] to emerge as the leader in this space. We think there’s an opportunity to, frankly, displace many of the technology providers that exist in this space who are all building on top of legacy systems.”

The Vision Behind the Plans

Connecting all four of these travel companies is part of Singh’s long-term vision of “the perfect trip,” or as others in the industry call it, “the connected trip.”

It’s the idea that all travel companies involved in a trip should have easy access to that traveler’s data, with permission, which would theoretically enable a more seamless experience for the traveler. In today’s world, a traveler who books a flight through an agency would usually need to return to the agency to change that flight because the airline doesn’t automatically receive the customer’s booking data. In the world of the “perfect” or “connected” trip, the traveler could change the flight directly with the airline. 

Singh also emphasized that the coming platform will be built with an open technological infrastructure, meaning that clients can choose to connect third-party software and build their own suite of products. It’s more common with next-generation hotel management tech, but not corporate travel. 

“To me, this is what’s been the problem in the travel industry for the last decade: People have been protecting their existing models and not innovating on behalf of the customer, not innovating on behalf of the supplier. And whenever you do that, it opens up opportunities for those that are willing.”

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Tags: artificial intelligence, concur, corporate travel, direct travel, madrona ventures, spotnana, steve singh

Photo credit: Pictured: Business traveler walking in the Chicago O'Hare International Airport. Flickr

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