Investing for the Future
Traveltek chief executive Mal Barritt is new to the company but hardly new to travel. He stepped in to take over from founder Kenny Picken at Traveltek’s East Kilbride headquarters in August 1 this year, but he has spent 26 years in the industry.
He says “I was at My Travel when it merged with Thomas Cook. I set up my own cruise-selling business which I ran for eight years, then ran luxury tour operator Destinology and the ITC Group.”
Barrit acknowledges: “I’ve never run a technology business before. It is a fresh challenge for me.” However, he sees this as a positive: “I can look at it from the perspective of a customer. That is a different way of looking at it. This job couples my passions for travel and technology.”
He believes the ability “to look through the lens of a customer” is one of the reasons Traveltek recruited him, saying: “I had been a customer of Traveltek twice in the past. I also ran two very tech-savvy travel businesses, Destinology and ITC, where we put together a technology platform and understood how to support it. We ran Destinology as a technology business which just happened to sell luxury holidays.”
Traveltek attracted private equity firm YFM to invest £5.3 million in 2016. Barritt says: “We’re three years into the cycle with the investors and have put together a new three-year plan.
“This is a year of transition. We’ve pumped in a significant amount of money – £250,000 on infrastructure improvements for customers as we migrate to a cloud-based infrastructure, and £500,000 on front-end and back-end resources. We’re bringing in new resources, making multiple investments in people and infrastructure.”
At the same time, Barritt explains: “We decided to pull back expansion to focus on the UK and Europe, North America and Australasia, and on protecting the interests of existing customers, on providing better services to them. We closed our offices in Dubai and Singapore.”
However, the company retains a strong presence outside of the UK. “One of the largest clients is in the Netherlands – a new customer which operates across Europe,” he says.
Investing in core platform
Barritt’s aim is to “simplify the business model and standardise what we offer.”
The Traveltek business has three parts: “First, on API (Application Programming Interface) all of our content is integrated from over 200 suppliers and enabled on an API, based on the supplier a client wants to work with.
“Second, our core operating platform iSell – a sealed booking system offering search and book and customer management and evolving into a product – management system.
“Third, website journeys – we facilitate booking journeys for businesses.”
The investments the company is making also fall into three categories. Barritt says: “First, we’re reinvesting in our core platform, iSell, to provide best-in-class functionality.
“Second, we’re developing a standardised booking path for customers, building standardised journeys. We are trying to simplify what we do so we just hand over the booking journey to the client. Creating bespoke journeys is more difficult to support.
“Third, we’re developing a new tours preposition for next year, which we are looking to launch at World Travel Market in November. It’s for tour operators curating their own product, and, in time, we’ll add cruise to it.”
Challenging times bring opportunity
Barritt identifies a number of challenged facing the business, but with Brexit thankfully not one of them.
The first is “around how we deliver customer service.” He says: “We were lacking some tools and resources. We deployed research and support teams and tolls and are introducing service desks.”
“A second area we were under-resourced in was in front and back-end teams. We were concerned we weren’t paying enough so we’ve increased salaries. We also needed more people in certain areas so we have 15 people starting – a workforce increase of 15%.”
The company employs 80 people in East Kilbride and about 115 in total.
Barritt insists: “We’re a company that is growing and we continue to invest. Glasgow and Edinburgh are renowned for their tech innovation and we see travel technology growing in Scotland.”
On Brexit, Barritt says: “I have no concerns. It’s been going on for three years. We are not just reliant on the UK market, We’re present in the US and Australia and when times become more challenging in the UK there are always opportunities, Businesses look to automate more processes. That is an opportunity.”
Data is also a “big opportunity”, he says, arguing: “Traveltek is one of the largest distributors of cruise product in the UK. We have access to significant amounts of cruise-related data and we will look to harness that, to offer insights on the industry and the cruise market.
“A lot of our customers are cruise specialists and about 25%-30% of UK cruise bookings go through our platform – that is high street agents, tour operators, and online travel agency bookings.”
He adds: “We have a real range of clients from high-touch, bespoke tailor-made tour operators to simple flight and hotel retailers. IF we have a gap, it’s in the escorted touring market, which is what the new product will address.”
Barritt argues: “My approach to the business is to get the right people in to get the right product. We’re looking to bring in different skills.
“The people investment side of the business is important. It’s all about the people.”