Mezi Adds Thorsen, Joins Lola And So Many Other Business Travel Startups

By | May 22, 2017

[UPDATE: July 12, 2017: Mezi announced profile and dashboard functionality — and partnerships with Adelman Travel, Casto Travel and W Travel — as part of its Mezi for Business platform.]

Conversational commerce startup Mezi hired former SAP Concur exec and risk management entrepreneur Johnny Thorsen as VP of travel strategy and partnerships. He offers contacts and expertise as the company narrows its focus to business travel from various kinds of shopping. The app maker is one of more than a dozen startups targeting business travel, now also including Kayak co-founder Paul English’s Lola.

These players join 30SecondsToFly, Compl.ai, ETA Inc., NexTravel, Pana and several others in going after what Upside founder Jay Walker called the $165 billion market for “unmanaged” small and medium business travel.

Thorsen said he would look into whether Mezi can help managed programs as much as unmanaged ones. “A number of buyers are realizing they don’t have just one type of traveler,” he said during a Monday interview. “They have many, based on a combination of behavior, preferences and status. So we’re looking at how to provide a technology that makes it possible to move to a more multi-dimensional profile world.”

At the moment, all of Mezi’s clients are individuals. Mezi aims to help business travelers with more than reservations — offering event tickets, activities and dining help, too. Its agents will even check you in to your flight, though the company plans to automate that.

Mezi VP of travel strategy and partnerships Johnny Thorsen

“We are looking at this as more like a travel concierge,” said CEO and co-founder Swapnil Shinde. “Personalized and high-touch, it understands the traveler like a human agent would. We believe this might be the start of a new era in the travel domain.”

The app uses the Expedia Affiliate Network for fulfillment. It has a partnership with American Express Company and investment from American Express Ventures. Shinde declined to detail what he called testing with Amex.

“We’re looking at a broad range of partnership opportunities,” said Thorsen. “It can both be in the buying end of town — the service providers, TMCs — or the suppliers. Suppliers also are challenged with getting new staff into the production house. There will be a growing need for intelligent, automated servicing technology.”

Existing booking systems, they said, suffer from inflexibility and limited predictive capabilities using history and preferences.

Mezi uses Sabre and also sources some content from Priceline. It makes money on commissions, but is testing booking fees.

The company has about 60 employees, 35 of whom are travel agents using a proprietary interface on top of Sabre. However, Shinde said, many of the requirement-gathering, research and booking processes are completely automated.

Mezi decided in November to focus on travel after seeing it grow ten times as quickly as other verticals, and with more repeat customers. At least for now, though, the app will still sell you an air conditioner.

Lola Zigs

Lola declined to make an executive available for an interview about its change in direction. The company started about a year ago as an app-based travel agency. Execs anticipate relaunching its services at the end of the summer with a new focus on business travel, according to a spokesperson.

Skift reported that CEO and co-founder Paul English recently told attendees to a PhoCusWright conference in Europe that Lola has 11 corporate clients in the Boston area. He was quoted as saying the company employs about a dozen travel agents, after initially expecting to hire 100.

“The people who really love Lola are the ones who travel a lot —  they are on the road every week, or every couple of weeks,” English wrote in a Friday blog post. “They really need human support for all kinds of different things … We believe there is a huge opportunity in the marketplace to bring simplicity to the complexity of business travel and maybe even a little bit of joy along the way. We’re refocusing Lola to serve the busy, frequent business travelers who really need us.”

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Author: Jay Campbell

Jay Campbell in 2004 created travel business newsletter The Beat, in 2006 co-founded Travel Procurement magazine and in 2010 integrated them into Northstar Travel Media's BTN Group. He served as editorial director until 2013. Jay made his travel industry media debut in 1993 at the Air Travel Journal of Boston while earning his undergraduate degree in journalism at Boston University. More on LinkedIn.