B2B wholesaler WebBeds paid £200m for JacTravel last August, triggering big growth in its financial results. Ben Ireland speaks to the company’s chief executive for Europe

WebBeds regards the UK trade as its biggest growth area for the next year, having posted big rises in bookings and revenue following last year’s acquisition of JacTravel.

Its financial results, posted on August 23, show bookings up 214% to more than 2.2 million across the group. Revenue rose 203% to A$114 million (£62 million) and earnings before tax and interest (Ebitda) were up from A$400,000 to A$27.2 million.

WebBeds attributes the upturn to the JacTravel takeover. Horne says: “It’s been a very powerful growth, powered by acquisitions.”

B2B takeover

Australia-based Webjet bought travel wholesaler JacTravel for £200 million last year and added it to its B2B division, WebBeds.

Horne says an amalgamation of the JacTravel, Totalstay.com and Sunhotels brands is “on the table” but not in the pipeline. “We see the value in those brands,” he says.

B2B booking site Totalstay is due for an “enhancement”, Horne adds, with a pilot under way this month with some agent partners.

Its new look has been designed, with agent feedback, to be “fast, simple and clear” and to display its 200,000 hotels across 10,000 destinations in the same way that B2C sites do, so agents can show screens to customers in a digestible format. Customer reviews have been added and the cancellation process simplified for agents.

“You shouldn’t need to be a system expert to book with us,” says Horne. “We want it to be familiar to the agent and customer.”

The UK, one of Australian-based WebBeds’ two biggest markets in Europe alongside Germany, is the focus of growth plans.

“We see the UK as a massive opportunity,” says Horne. “We have been working in the UK market for a very long time and know the product. And we don’t believe we can grow without the UK and Irish market driving that growth.”

The company is the second-biggest, behind Hotelbeds, in the European B2B hotel market. Horne asserts that eventually, the company wants to take the top spot, although he is quick to add that improving its offering for travel agent customers is more important than eating into rivals’ market shares.

‘Positive feel’

Part of the growth story has been the renovation of WebBeds’ office in London’s Kentish Town. Completed this summer, the refurb has seen the office, which accommodates 140 staff, become a modern, minimalist space that Horne says has given staff “a positive feel”.

Although the brands are unlikely to be merged any time soon, consolidation has taken place behind the scenes. For instance, sales teams are now trained to pitch the WebBeds, JacTravel, Totalstay and Sunhotels brands.

“As we acquire brands, we have started to bring in the WebBeds ethos,” adds Horne.

There are eight roles in WebBeds’ UK and Ireland sales team – up from six this time last year. “We have invested a lot of resource in people,” says Horne.

“We’ve brought the teams together, but not reduced the headcount. We know that it’s important for the customer – the travel agent – to have support.”

Better rates

Horne says WebBeds has relationships with “most of the retail consortia” in the UK to reach agents, and acquiring JacTravel has enabled it to offer better rates.

Integrating beach specialist Sunhotels, as well as the more city-focused JacTravel, has given agents “more choice and more to sell”.

“We are exclusively B2B, so we succeed only if our trade partners succeed,” stresses Horne.

“We have no B2C interests, so everything we are doing is geared towards enabling our trade partners to succeed.”

Joint marketing activity with agents is planned. “We see it as our job to help agents,” he adds. “It’s important to be there for your partners in good times, as well as when things are more challenging.”

With WebBeds “very strong financially”, with more than $100 million in the bank, the message to agents is that they can book with confidence.

“In the B2B world, we can’t create demand,” says Horne. “But we can make sure that the best offers are available. When the big tour operators are having a tough time, they will discount. We are not there to compete with agents, we are there to support them and help them take on direct sales.”