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Letter from Fort Lauderdale: The sun rises on global travel

Nov 18, 2021

Letter from Fort Lauderdale: The sun rises on global travel Letter from Fort Lauderdale: The sun rises on global travel Expedia’s Kern says no more “peanut butter” approach to expansion while Concur founder Steve Singh dives deep into corporate travel disruption WHEN Mark Mahaney, senior managing director of investment banking firm, Evercore, asked the audience at the Phocuswright conference how many had travelled cross-border to attend the event, several hands, including mine, shot up instantly. The internet research expert hadbeen trying to make the point that while travel recovery was underway in theUS, cross-border travel would be slow in picking up and that even though the UShad opened its borders on November 8, it might take some time for inbound toreturn and for Americans to travel abroad. Somewhat surprised by the strong showof hands, he said, you are ahead of the pack. And that’s what it was – it wasgood to see the travel industry get ahead of the pack because if we are toconvince our customers about the need to travel, whether for business, leisureor to attend conferences, we need to step out of our bubbles ourselves andliterally, walk the talk. The Phocuswright conference may have been smaller in size – close to 800, with nearly 30% coming from outside the US – but was definitely bigger in heart (and hugs and kisses). I think I more than made up for 20 months of lost hugs. This is what happens when you putnaturally social humans in a room together, especially those who haven’t seeneach other in nearly two years and who’ve been through the same crisis together– and of course, in places where there are almost no restrictions onsocialising,  including masks (whichwhile recommended were a rare sight on the show floor). Compared to WiT ExperienceSingapore where we had to contend with government restrictions on seating,masking, mingling and moving around, this felt like kids being let loose in asandbox to play – which means leaving it to individuals to make their ownpersonal risk assessments. The experience of coming togetherwith people from different countries – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada,Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India,Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia,Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, UAE and UK – wasalmost cathartic as we shared “war stories”, caught up on each other’s personalwell-being (particularly those who contracted Covid and thankfully recovered)and then got on with the business at hand – restart cross-border global travel. Running into our two startups who finished first and second respectively at the WiT Startup Pitch, Mark Corbett of Thrust Carbon and Noah Bloom of RunGo , felt like they had popped out of the virtual screen into real life. In the networking area, corridorsand the lobby of The Diplomat Hotel, the sound of chatter and laughter wasconstant. The lack of hotel services (this hotel reopened in June and has had troublerestaffing for the rebound) was not enough to dampen people’s spirits. People huddled in meetings to renew partnerships and strike new ones; startups met up with investors (capital is on sale, said Steve Singh of Modrana Venture Capital ), so lots of money chasing investments right now; and new startups pitched their ideas in front of an industry hungry for innovation. Peter Kern: No more “peanut butter” approach to international expansion. “I was never worried about travelcoming back,” said Peter Kern, vice chairman and CEO of Expedia Group, whenasked what he worried about at the start of the pandemic that didn’t turn outto be a worry after all. “Perhaps age gives you perspective. New York Cityboomed for 20 years after September 11.” What he did worry about was money,which the group raised at the beginning of the pandemic. “A lot of it has beenpaid back. It was expensive,” he said. In retrospect, perhaps it needn’t have raisedas much but it had to, not knowing how the crisis would turn out. And it was good to have globalconversations back on the table when for the past two years, most talk has beenabout domestic travel. Travel is not meant to be confined or localised, it’smeant to be free to move across borders. Kern himself has been travelling,so again he’s ahead of the pack. As soon as he could, he travelled to London tomeet his team and then had a family holiday in Tuscany. Global recovery thoughis patchy, he said. “Latin America is worse than US, Asia Pacific is worse thanAmerica.” He said he would be ramping up“the international piece” but would not take its “historical peanut butterapproach” where it would lather continents like Asia or Latin America with onespread. “We want to have more focused strategies in markets where we can win orgo on the offensive. It will be more directed and intentional.” This approach will also apply tohow it does performance marketing. Said Kern, “We ramped that up as thebusiness ramped up. I am signing big cheques again and we intend to useperformance marketing to great effect but we will also do other things –loyalty, brand, direct. We will run a more profitable business. “We are cleaning up complexity todrive velocity again.” One of the “cleaning up” it did wasget out of corporate travel – it’s sold Egencia to American Express GBT in adeal where it has a 10-year agreement to provide supply as well as keep a smallstake. Steve Singh: “There will be massive change around the individual and how to serve them, and the architecture that has all been built around the company has to change. We have to flip the architecture around.” And interestingly, this is the very sector that Steve Singh, founder of Concur, is putting stakes in the next level disruption in this multi-billion dollar sector. Singh is regarded as the kingpin of the corporate travel world, building up Concur Technologies and selling it for $8.3 billion to SAP in 2014. He’s listed as chairman of the board of TROOP and executive chairman of Spotnana , two startups out to change the way meetings and corporate travel are planned, bought, sold and consumed. “I wasn’t interested in investingin travel again until a few things changed,” he said. “One, technology wherethe cloud took hold and the capacity to solve problems that you couldn’t fiveyears ago. Two, Covid which will change our generation for the next 100 years.While it’s a tragic human story, it’s pushing opportunities across the globeand in the long run, it will be fantastic for humanity. Three, capital – it’son sale. “These three factors will driveopportunities to do something amazing – I am a huge believer that travel willcome back, bigger than ever, different but bigger than ever.” The biggest change is the shiftto the individual. “There will be massive change around the individual and howto serve them, and the architecture that has all been built around the companyhas to change. We have to flip the architecture around.” And that’s what the startups he’sinvested in – TROOP and Spotnana – are doing, building open architectures thatempower the individual – whether it be corporate client, supplier or the endtraveller. Sharing a mantra he’s lived by,he said, “You can’t justsolve what’s good for you but solve what’s best for your customer even if it’sbad for you.” Both Kernand Singh are also of the generation that does not believe work will changeforever. When asked what he’s sick of talking about, Kern said, “Flexiblework.” Singhbelieves the amount of dollars being saved in commercial real estate will shiftto business travel. “Social media is one of the worst things we’ve seen in thepast five years. It tears people apart. What brings people together is to haveconversations together. That’s why I came into travel.” And that certainly proved true at Phocuswright. The conversations were real and tangible. This is an industry that’s building its way back. There is of course some trepidation as to how the virus will turn – with Europe now seeing the latest wave of infections – but Asia Pacific is slowly opening up. And as we’ve learnt to navigate the pandemic the past 20 months, we will now learn to live with it, as I am learning to do on this trip that’s taken me from Singapore to New York, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Now I’m headed to Cleveland, Ohio, located in the rust and snow belt of the US. In heading to this part of the US, I’ve been told I’m definitely ahead of the pack. When I told Peter Kern where I was going, he looked at me quizzically and asked, “Why?” I wonder what I will find there. Welcome back, global travel. Tags:

Steve Singh Investments

5 Investments

Steve Singh has made 5 investments. Their latest investment was in Modumetal as part of their Series E on January 1, 2019.

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Steve Singh Investments Activity

investments chart

Date

Round

Company

Amount

New?

Co-Investors

Sources

1/29/2019

Series E

Modumetal

$14M

No

2

1/18/2018

Series B

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$99M

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10

9/19/2017

Series A

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$99M

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10

10/12/2016

Convertible Note - III

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$99M

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10

6/8/2015

Series D

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$99M

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10

Date

1/29/2019

1/18/2018

9/19/2017

10/12/2016

6/8/2015

Round

Series E

Series B

Series A

Convertible Note - III

Series D

Company

Modumetal

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Subscribe to see more

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Amount

$14M

$99M

$99M

$99M

$99M

New?

No

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Co-Investors

Sources

2

10

10

10

10

Steve Singh Portfolio Exits

1 Portfolio Exit

Steve Singh has 1 portfolio exit. Their latest portfolio exit was VICIS on April 09, 2020.

Date

Exit

Companies

Valuation
Valuations are submitted by companies, mined from state filings or news, provided by VentureSource, or based on a comparables valuation model.

Acquirer

Sources

4/9/2020

Asset Sale

2

Date

4/9/2020

Exit

Asset Sale

Companies

Valuation

Acquirer

Sources

2

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