TravelPerk COO Huw Slater on how to emerge stronger from a crisis

TravelPerk is a leading business travel platform, helping small- and medium-sized companies manage all aspects of their travel in one place. This includes employee bookings, expense management, automated spending limits, and travel policies. Working with Stripe, TravelPerk is bringing simple and efficient travel solutions to companies worldwide—making coming together to form purposeful connections in person as easy as possible.

As the world enters a period of economic uncertainty, we spoke to Huw Slater, TravelPerk’s chief operating officer, who talked about his experiences steering a travel company through the pandemic, the role of innovation in surviving a crisis, and how to use adversity to strengthen a business.

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What are some of the pain points TravelPerk is solving for its customers?

For a lot of businesses, arranging business travel falls on the employees who are doing the travelling. That creates a burden for the employee, and is also bad for the employer, who has no control or visibility over what is being spent until the expense reports come in. TravelPerk integrates the whole process into one platform that’s paid for and controlled by the company. It’s a great experience for the traveller, as they get a consumer-grade experience, and the finance team is happy knowing they aren’t going to be over budget at the end of the month.

The business travel market has faced some serious challenges over the past few years. How have you navigated them?

You need to adapt to changing needs. At the outset of the pandemic, rather than downsizing, we actually grew our product and engineering department by over 250%. These teams went on to develop new products like FlexiPerk, designed to give travellers greater flexibility and certainty in an uncertain environment. These innovations were designed to help us get through the crisis, but many of the changes we made are still really popular with our customers today.

We have taken a similar approach to the challenges posed by climate change. While the industry is getting better on sustainability, it's not happening fast enough. We wanted to move faster, so we introduced GreenPerk to carbon offset all travel activity booked on our platform. We are seeing hundreds of customers join GreenPerk, and we've offset more than fifty thousand tons of CO2 already.

As the pandemic has eased, new economic challenges have arisen. How can online platforms like TravelPerk support customers through this?

One of the core parts of our product involves providing our customers with the control and opportunity to influence certain outcomes. The control to promote sustainability in practical ways, for example, by prioritising trains over flights. Or in getting people back to meeting in real life, which has been shown to have a positive impact on talent attraction and retention, as well as on productivity and creativity. Whether it’s CFOs, administrators, office managers, or HR, TravelPerk gives people the visibility and control to make decisions that match what's happening in the economic environment around them – and we do it in an easy-to-use way. On average, our customers are saving 20% in travel costs by using our platform.

What advice would you give to other companies about resilience?

There are three pieces of advice I’d share with businesses based on our COVID experience.

First, be prepared. Know what matters and where you’re going to make trade-offs. For us, this meant reducing spend on less important areas but continuing to invest in things that will matter long-term to the customer. We created a framework that helped us make those decisions, setting out the cost of reduction and the impact on us of emerging strong. All of our ideas were mapped against these two criteria. I’d encourage everyone going into this period to get a framework in place, because then you don’t have to panic when you get into a high-stress decision-making situation.

Second, keep reassessing what the customer wants and check whether you are providing that. Customer needs can change very quickly and may not be the same across your user base. If your customers have switched focus to cost savings, and you’re constantly talking to them about revenue growth, they’re not going to listen.

Finally, focus on your people. If there’s uncertainty on the outside, there is certainly uncertainty within your organisation. Part of our strategy during the pandemic was to focus on our employees’ security and well-being. Empathy and humility are crucial, particularly in delivering difficult news. You need to ensure you are communicating appropriately, coming together as a community, and creating a deeper sense of belonging among your employees.

What role can technology play in making businesses like TravelPerk more efficient?

We want to focus on the things that matter to our customers. That’s where we ultimately want to deploy our resources. Working with businesses like Stripe enables us to do that because we don’t have to invest a ton of our time in managing payment rails. It’s already done for us. The modern tech stack enables businesses like ours to focus on our customers, which is what we want to do and why we exist.

How is Stripe working with TravelPerk to achieve its goals?

We’re a global company. Our customers are mainly from companies in Europe and the US, but they are travelling all around the world. That immediately presents challenges in terms of dealing with different payment methods and local currencies. Stripe makes that process seamless for us. We never have to think about where the customer is or where the customer is going.

Stripe has also been a wonderful partner for us as we think about scaling the product. We are a hyper-growth company. We grew from $1 million to $100 million annual recurring revenue in fewer than five years. Our engineering team is able to innovate faster, and we can develop products quicker, because we have Stripe behind us.

What do you think the business travel market will look like five years from now?

Travel has come roaring back and the industry will surpass pre-pandemic market size, but the shape of it will be different. There will continue to be space for hybrid working and tools like Zoom, but it’s human nature that people want to connect in real life. Business travel tools will be used for deeper connections – things like offsites and whiteboard sessions where connection really matters. Tech platforms like ours will continue to come to the forefront because we’re able to adapt and provide those complex software solutions really quickly.

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