This week, American Express announced that it had signed an agreement to create a joint venture for its Global Business Travel division, sharing ownership with Certares—an investment firm led by a former executive at JPMorgan Chase—and the Qatar Investment Authority. The group invested $900 million for a 50 percent stake in the new venture, and American Express will retain 50 percent ownership
The deal had been in the works for some time, and the business will continue to operate under the "American Express Global Business Travel" brand following the closing.
Issa Jouaneh (pictured right), vice president and general manager, American Express Meetings & Events, emphasized to Travel Agent that American Express is not selling its Global Business Travel division. Instead, he said, American Express and its investors are creating a separate company. "AmEx contributes the assets of the business," he explained, "while the investors contribute $900 million. Together, they share equal ownership of a new, joint venture company."
For right now, Jouaneh continued, it’s business as usual. "However, the investment capital—all of which is going to GBT to support its growth and transformation—will be used for further international expansion and to make advancements in a number of areas, such as analytics, service excellence and technology. This will all be highly beneficial to suppliers, partners and our global customers." In terms of technology, he added, the company is looking to develop "flexible, functional and disruptive" options, particularly in digital and premium servicing capabilities, including mobile apps, reporting tools and itinerary management solutions.
As the New York Times reported, the deal completes American Express' effort to trim its exposure to corporate travel, a business that has declined after cost-cutting efforts around the country.
Instead of relying on agencies, the story noted, corporate employees are increasingly being asked to make their own arrangements. Last year, American Express announced plans to lay off 5,400 employees, primarily in the travel business.
"We expect this to be a seamless transition," Jouaneh said, "and are taking all the necessary precautions to ensure uninterrupted service for our suppliers, partners and clients."
The closing of the joint venture transaction is subject to the receipt of requisite regulatory approvals and the satisfaction of other customary closing conditions. Assuming these conditions are met, American Express would plan to close the transaction in the second quarter of 2014.
Bill Glenn, who led American Express’s global commercial services unit, will be chief executive of the joint venture.
The GBT division has more than 14,000 employees and operations and network partners in 139 countries.