Comtec has hired a new head of sales and marketing as it prepares to target growth and move its head offices to Cardiff later this year.
The Cwmbran-based travel technology specialist changed hands last year after a challenging period under private equity ownership, during which time it shrank significantly and lost key customers.
However, now under the leadership of Mike Russell, former chief executive of Vertical Systems, and backed by Finance Wales the firm says it has stabilised, continues to re-engineer its core technology, brought its customers onto the latest versions and laid the foundations to prospect for new customers.
On Monday Vicky Mills joins Comtec as head of sales and marketing, moving from Open Destinations where she has worked since September 2014 having joined from Vibe Software.
Russell said: “Vicky joining us is really about next year and the year after. I’m very confident we can fill the sales funnel.”
He added that he is pleased with the level of new customers Comtec has already picked up this year, including two who had left but have returned, two small new customers and two new very large customers.
“I thought after the stabilisation during the winter period that this year would be about steady growth but we have picked up a number of customers and I’m amazed how easy it’s been. It’s because they were so unhappy with where they were.
“A lot of people have been so burned in the industry by poor travel technology. I want our culture to be about solidity, honesty and quality of delivery.”
To cope with Comtec’s resource challenges, the firm will move to new premises in Cardiff joining rival firm Tiger Bay in the Welsh capital. It expects to add 10 new programmers this year and has started a new graduate scheme with two computer science graduates in the first year and plans to increase that to six.
It has also opened an Extended Development Centre in Russia and this will be grown from four developers to around 10 by the end of the year.
Russell said the relocation to Cardiff meant Comtec could access a better pool of talent and had the benefit of “parking its tanks on a rival’s lawn”.
“Comtec has had its issues but with where it is now with an exciting future why, if you are a technology graduate, would you not want to work in travel,” said Russell.
Comtec is half way through the final year of a three year project to put its technology on a .net framework with 97% of its API calls now on the new technology stack and 100% due to be going through it by the end of the year, improving performance of the core product.
The next major project is to modernise the user experience of the retail front end, with a new look and feel set to start being rolled out at the end if this year having been developed in partnership with a large customer.
“Almost every travel company care so much about their reservation staff, that’s the heart of their business so having a product that delights users is really important,” Russell said.
Comtec is seeing interest from retail businesses that have moved their model into tour operating and their existing systems won’t allow them to do what they want.
“There is real opportunity at the intersection of retail and tour operation,” Russell said.The Travel Network Group, the agency group that owns the Worldchoice and Travel Trust Association consortia, has decided to move the back-end functionality of its Honeycomb dynamic packaging system from in-house to Comtec.
“I see real opportunity in going down the sales chain putting our customers closer to the supplier. It’s all about disintermediation. If you look at what’s driving our customers’ businesses, it’s efficiency, speed and pricing accuracy.
“There are so many things we can focus on but the first thing you do is get the product right under the bonnet. Then it will be our streamlining down the supply chain.
“A lot of our customers talk about online booking and XML feeds and we do provide both but that’s not where they make their margin, it’s selling complicated stuff over the phone. That’s where the commercial edge is.
“If there is no differentiation and you are just selling aggregates XML content you are up against some massive players.”