American Express – Amex GBT’s plan for Ovation? Don’t mess with success: Travel Weekly
Ovation Travel Group’s high-touch service attracted not only a growing client base to the agency but a corporate suitor. It has now found a new home as a division of American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT), which announced the acquisition of Ovation this month.
The marriage brings together two major travel sellers: Amex GBT is No. 3 on Travel Weekly’s 2020 Power List, with $34.1 billion in 2019 sales. Ovation is No. 15, with 2019 sales of $1.6 billion.
Andrew Crawley, Amex GBT’s chief commercial officer, said GBT has a strategic agenda to identify client segments where its value proposition is lacking. Ovation filled one of those areas, specifically within the small- and medium-enterprise category.
“They were renowned in this space of high-touch service,” Crawley said. “They were doing it in a way that nobody else does, and it fits really neatly into that strategic imperative of finding partners who could effectively bring us the value proposition that we require in that particular segment. Ovation was the No. 1 choice there.”
Amex GBT acquired all of Ovation’s brands, including Lawyers Travel, which many consider to be the company’s crown jewel. Ovation will become a division of Amex GBT’s Global Customer Partnerships organization, and existing Ovation management — including CEO Paul Metselaar — will remain in place. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Amex GBT and Ovation began discussions in mid-2020, but even before that, Metselaar was looking for a partner for his 36-year-old agency. January 2019 was the biggest month in Ovation’s history.
“Even then, we recognized that the future required us to find the right partner to plug some gaps,” Metselaar said, citing needs in technology and the desire for a greater global presence. “Even if the pandemic hadn’t happened, I think this would have been a match made in heaven.”
The pandemic did accelerate Ovation’s search for a partnership, and while there were other opportunities on the table, Amex GBT was “head and shoulders above” those, Metselaar said.
The large majority of Ovation’s 2019 sales, 84%, was in business travel. But its leisure business has been growing; it increased 40% year over year from 2018 to account for 13% of the agency’s 2019 sales. Ovation has about 300 independent contractors. Under Amex GBT, Metselaar said he intends to continue growing all parts of the business.
Whatever behind-the-scenes changes may occur — for instance, in the areas involving technology — Ovation’s clients will maintain relationships with the same staff members as before, and no changes are expected for independent contractors, Crawley said.
Metselaar expects Ovation’s clients to benefit from the content the agency will have access to, new technology offerings and Amex GBT’s global platform.
Throughout the pandemic and before, Amex GBT has been bullish on acquisitions, and that will continue, according to Crawley.
And he is excited to learn more about how Ovation serves its clients.
“We call it the ‘Ovation secret sauce,'” he said. “We want to get under the DNA of what that is, bottle it up and sprinkle it around liberally.”
Tag: American Express