Former Concur boss leads venture capital takeover of Direct Travel

US travel management company Direct Travel has been acquired by an investment group led by Steve Singh, co-founder and former chief executive of travel expense management company Concur.

Direct Travel, based in Denver, operates chiefly in the US and Canada where it has more than 4,500 mid-market corporate clients and reported $7 billion in sales. But it is a partner with UK-based ATPI in Europe, with the pair having established Direct ATPI Global Travel in 2017.

Singh is now managing director of US venture capital fund Madrona Venture Group and his co-investors include Durable Capital Partners, Top Tier Capital and Blackstone Credit and Insurance.

The deal, for an undisclosed sum, will see Singh become executive chair of Direct Travel and Christal Bemont, a former senior Concur executive and head of data management company Talend, take over as chief executive from Ed Adams who founded Direct in 2011.

Announcing the acquisition, Singh said: “We’ll invest to meet our customers’ current needs, grow our customer base, expand the number of markets we serve and [expand] the breadth of products we deliver.”

Bemont told Travel Weekly: “This is probably an inflection point in the industry.”

She said: “We’re seeing a return to travel but also new types of travel for meetings, events and leisure. People may be more distributed [at work] and have not all returned to the office, but they have to get together.”

Bemont argued: “The technology has not been there until now to solve some of the problems we’re trying to solve.”

She suggested that open-source technology and AI “can facilitate a larger proportion of transactions” and said: “AI is going to be the best friend of the traveller, coupled with the best service.”

Direct Travel provides travel management services via three technology platforms – travel-as-a-service platform Spotnana, card expense management platform Centre, and group meetings and events platform Troop.

However, Bemont said: “The first order of business is to be able to service customers. With all the technology available, you still need great people. As good as the technology is, you need people to service customers.”

She noted Direct Travel “fared extremely well” through the pandemic and “came out with 98% customer retention” but added: “This is an opportunity to expand geographically and to go upmarket.”

Bemont said it would be “business as usual” with the ATPI partnership.

Two-thirds of Direct Travel’s business is in the US, with most of the remainder in North America.

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