Special report: Comtec fights back

Special report: Comtec fights back

Technology entrepreneur says Comtec has been put on a secure footing and aims to win back business. Lee Hayhurst reports

Comtec has vowed to win back business lost in recent years now the reservations systems supplier is back in the hands of founder Simon Powell.

The firm was bought back by Powell last October after six years under the ownership of private equity investor RJD Partners.

Despite the RJD Partners takeover having promised a war chest of £10 million for acquisitions to treble the size of the firm, lost business and mounting debts saw its bank, HSBC, assume control.

Last year Powell backed a successful bid for Comtec with Finance Wales, fronted by new chief executive Mike Russell, formerly of rival Vertical Systems.

Powell and Russell negotiated to restructure Comtec’s £4.5 million debt and secure new capital investment of £1.4 million.

Powell said: “Comtec had not won a lot of new clients and transactional revenue had reduced, so it was about making sure we were open for business.

“Midmarket agents and operators are key to our strategy and we will be looking to regain clients and expand in that market.”

Comtec’s Travelink system is used by major travel firms including Tui’s Hayes & Jarvis and Sovereign brands, Gold Medal and Thomas Cook’s Flexibletrips.

However, under RJD Partners it lost some sizeable mid-sized clients including Classic Collection Holidays, Mark Warner and Cadogan Holidays.

It also lost significant business in Canada after Travel Impressions was sold by American Express to Apple Leisure Group in 2013.

Powell, who remained at Comtec for two years after initially selling a 51% stake in 2008, said: “When I left we had about 160 to 170 people; when we took it back in October that was around 75 to 80 and a number of smaller businesses had moved off the Comtec platform.

“It was a company that needed to be turned around and actually brought back to life. It was not in the best of health.”

Comtec’s comeback

Comtec technology has been a mainstay of the UK travel sector for 20 years.

But the previous management chose to focus on the ‘three Ts’, or its biggest accounts: Tui Travel, Thomas Cook (Gold Medal) and Canadian operator Travel Impressions.

Powell said: “Other technology companies had an opportunity, because of the way the previous management positioned Comtec, to expand quicker than if Comtec had been focused on the area of the business that Mike [Russell], and his team are focused on today.

“Comtec will be coming back and looking to be aggressive in those areas of the travel business. We have already won some new business and there are a number of good opportunities being worked on.”

Powell said although Comtec had had its challenges in the six years under RJD Partners, that did not mean it had stood still, adding: “[During that time] a very professional structure was put in place around professional services, delivery and operations, which has set a foundation for the future.”

In addition, Powell added, Travelink had been modernised.

“The technology had moved on. Comtec still had a very hefty staff base and were working on refactoring a lot of Travelink to put it on a next-generation footing.”

Powell added: “That was great to come back and see.”

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