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How Mergers and Acquisitions Are Accelerating Innovation in Travel
October, 04th 2017

Companies today are under immense pressure to grow their core business, while at the same time, keep up with rapid changes in technology. This is especially true of those in the travel and hospitality industries. In addition to dealing with the typical challenges companies face, larger international players must adapt to local specificities while staying ahead of the curve.

Many of today’s leading brands in travel and hospitality have been formed through mergers and acquisitions: Priceline, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Trivago, Amadeus and Sabre, to name a few. And while many studies have found mergers and acquisitions to produce major failures, this hasn’t typically been the case in travel and hospitality, though some deals have taken longer than expected to qualify as a success.

Taking a tactical approach to mergers and acquisitions has proven to be an effective weapon in the industry’s arsenal.

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We often think of such operations in terms of larger deals between major brands, but startups have made an enormous impact in recent years as many businesses designing prototypes have been purchased by larger companies. This isn’t to say that all startups should be written off as pawns for larger companies, but it should certainly be acknowledged as a common, and often successful, practice.

It shouldn’t be surprising—startups are the frontrunners of innovation. They’re agile and can afford to take big risks. Entrepreneurs who launch startups tend to be more impulsive by nature, turning big ideas into reality. Comparatively, larger, more established companies face significant challenges when moving in new directions The risk is greater both financially and in terms of keeping existing clients happy. Bold research and development programs can reduce this risk, but these programs are expensive, and results aren’t guaranteed.

Large corporations are increasingly hedging their bets by cherry-picking the best ideas from bright, young startups and integrating these companies into their groups. And while there are often questions surrounding the valuation of startup companies, the talent such companies bring in to large corporations could be priceless. Nobody wants to pay over the odds for an unknown brand, but even if the idea isn’t ultimately a winner, bringing in fresh minds can inject new life into an established company. While mergers and acquisitions aren’t the only means of innovation, it could be one of the cheapest.

AccorHotels is one example of an established brand that has witnessed a cultural revolution within its company through mergers and acquisitions. Sebastien Bazin, the hotelier’s CEO, introduced a wind of change into the brand with his purchase of 10 smaller tech companies in less than three years.

AccorHotels’ first acquisition took place in 2014, with its purchase of Wipolo, an online service for organizing travel itineraries and sharing trips with friends and family, founded by Thibault Viort, Thomas Girard and Raphaël Guillet. Under Viort’s leadership, the trio created a business-minded think tank within the company which assessed new business ideas and defined incubation and acquisition patterns. The acquisition led to bold internal initiatives, including the launch of Jo & Joe, AccorHotels’ youth hostel brand, and “Accor Local,” a program that aims to transform every hotel into a hub of services for locals. The team also completed close to 10 acquisitions of tech companies (investing $350 million) to develop into private rental, hospitality software, concierge and loyalty services.

The integration of start-ups has been proven to be a successful growth strategy for many companies. But no matter how perfect of a fit the joint venture may be, buyers need to be clear on how they plan to deliver on their promise of continuous growth. This can be achieved through analysis by an independent party, such as a financial advisory firm, which will be able to objectively assess and manage both sides’ expectations, and help run a post-deal scenario simulation.

Tactical mergers and acquisitions require world-class execution and a high-quality team behind the transaction—the real mark of a firm’s performance. The outcome of a deal hangs on the precision, reaction and judgement of each person working on it. Appointing a banker who is a real industry expert, rather than a simple “deal maker,” can be instrumental to ensure a successful outcome and post-deal integration.

Cambon Partners provides growth companies with comprehensive advisory services for mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance. The firm has advised on more than 20 deals in the travel and hospitality industry over the last five years and has structured a platform to operate on a global scale with offices in Paris, London, San Francisco and Beijing. To learn more, visit Cambon Partners.

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