Grassroots to growth: building a startup within a tech giant

startupsA little over a year ago Amadeus North America publicly launched Amadeus for Startups, a unique, first-of-its-kind program aimed at helping emerging online travel companies navigate not only the complex technology labyrinth, but also the travel industry. Amadeus was no stranger to working with startups. In fact, it’s what we’ve been doing for nearly 30 years, long before the word “startup” was trendy. Much of the company’s success has hinged on our personal relationships, deep knowledge and understanding of needs and trends, and our overall mission to closely and personally collaborate with our customers. This is engrained in our DNA and has largely been what has set us apart.

In recent years, however, we had noticed an influx of online travel startups coming onto the scene – not just new traditional travel companies hoping to become the next travel giant, but technologists and developers with ground-breaking ideas and skills with minimal industry expertise. We soon realized our teams were helping in ways we’d not recognized would be critical. Part of our everyday M.O. was coaching customers on how to become an accredited travel agency, advising on how to distribute content vs. selling direct to the public, referring them to external, preferred companies like incubators, consolidators and fulfillment agencies. The positive feedback set the organization in motion to formalize a program. Thus Amadeus for Startups was born.

From grassroots to growth

Initially as a side job to some in the organization, our “little engine that could” was truly recognized as a main focus with a team and budget dedicated (or at least partially dedicated). “In many ways our program is a startup itself. In the early days we too were (internally) bootstrapped, trying to prove out a concept and recognize success so we could grow and promote it,” said Kerri Zeil, Head of Amadeus for Startups. Zeil was previously the Online Travel Group sales director and is the first Amadeus employee to move into a role solely focused on the new program in North America. “We recognized the need in the industry and the impact we already had on entrepreneurs hoping to break into travel,” said Stephane Durand, chief commercial officer at Amadeus. “And it was important to re-shift priorities and position the team to develop those ideas and technologies that could potentially disrupt the travel industry.”

In the last year, the Amadeus for Startups team has signed more than 40 new customers in various stages of development. We have had OTAs who were already transacting and some who had just begun to build out their concept. And thanks in part to external partners like Travel Startups Incubator and the Takeoff series by Skift, the word spread quickly. At any given time we are managing an active pipeline of upwards of 100 companies seeking more information and technology support. Many of them are individuals in a garage with a half-baked idea, but all of them get some face time and the opportunity to talk through their needs with our experts to determine if there is a fit with Amadeus.

The program is proving to be profitable and continues to gain traction beyond North America. Startups all over the globe are stumbling upon and the organization has recognized a need to address similar challenges in others regions, and hopes to create supporting programs globally. For example, Amadeus Next Asia Pacific is a program to build and foster the leading travel tech startup community. Within the community, Amadeus mentors and nurtures travel tech startups by providing access to our technology, expertise, reach and funding and by connecting them with likeminded partners that are as excited about travel tech. As these Amadeus programs gain traction and continue to grow, other travel or travel-related companies are following suit. “We know our program is different, so we don’t mind. We are supportive of any company that fosters innovation and success,” said Alix Argüelles, vice president of Online Travel Group. While the Amadeus for Startups program is largely a commercial endeavor aimed to sign new customers, the team is very much aligned with all stakeholders internally and globally to ensure that no matter what your needs are from a technology company like Amadeus we can put you in touch with the right group.

What’s next

This year we are again partnering with SkiftX on a series called “Demystifying Travel,” sponsored by Amadeus with an Amadeus for Startups feature. We’ll be launching a new blog series, “Startup Corner” which will highlight trends within the travel startup community as well as shining a spotlight on some of our startup customers. And we aim to create a startup think tank to more officially tap into the challenges, drivers and goals of this community. And we’ll continue to collaborate and grow with our strategic alliances with Travel Startups Incubator and Travel Team Consulting.


Ready to take your business to the next level? Learn how Amadeus for Startups can help.


Jessica Labaire is a marketing manager at Amadeus North America with over 20 years of travel marketing experience. She supports the online travel group and Amadeus for startups program and can be found at @JesHeartsTravel.


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