Travelocity replaces CEO with former exec

Sabre pulled off a shakeup at its Travelocity subsidiary, moving president and CEO Hugh Jones to Sabre Airline Solutions, and bringing on Gilt Groupe president Carl Sparks as president and CEO of Travelocity.

Sparks formerly was general manager of and before that was chief marketing officer at Expedia.

He leaves his post as president of Gilt Groupe, which owns flash sales site Jetsetter.

Sabre didn’t explicity cite the reasons for the move, and as a private company one can only speculate if the shakeup is tied to Travelocity’s performance.

“Both Hugh and Carl are exceptional leaders with proven success in today’s dynamic travel industry,” said Sam Gilliland, Sabre chairman and CEO. “Their knowledge of the travel industry, global insight, passion for innovation and deep understanding of what our customers want will enable both businesses to thrive and be successful in today’s competitive industry.”

Asked about the reasons for the CEO transition, Travelocity spokesman Joel Frey said: “Hugh has a strong background in the airline business, so the company wanted to apply that experience to leading Airline Solutions.  We chose Carl because he  brings deep experience in online retail, consumer brands and marketing.”

Carroll Rheem, PhoCusWright’s director of research, characterizes the changes at Travelocity as “a step in the right direction.”

Travelocity needs to find some momentum for its hotel product, which has been “treading water,” Rheem says.

International expansion is key for Travelocity and the hotel business is an integral component of that, Rheem says.

Pointing to the growing of other global hotel platforms, such as those from Priceline and and Expedia, Rheem says of Travelocity: “They have their work cut out for them.”

Sparks has a great background in retail, and merchandising hotels at, so bringing him on board at Travelocity “makes a lot of sense,” Rheem adds.

Another industry observer sees the moves in a harsher light.

“Sabre squandered the once-leading positions of both Travelocity and,” the industry observer said. “Hopefully this move is a positive sign that they finally realize the online travel agency business is not B2B, not being a technology solutions provider, and it can no longer be about air.”

Meanwhile, Henry Harteveldt, Forrester Research’s principal analyst for travel, cites Sparks’ Expedia ties and notes that Travelocity may gain information on how “one of Travelocity’s primary competitors does business.”

“Travelocity sees its future as being in the accommodations space and Sparks has proven himself in the space,” Harteveldt says.

Pointing to the fact that Sabre hired the new Travelocity CEO from outside the company, Harteveldt says “this illustrates the need for Travelocity to do more to ensure existing talent is given the skills and training that they need.”

Sabre credits Jones with aiding in Travelocity’s international expansion, and growth in the media business and Travelocity Partner Network. He also oversaw the introduction of the company’s global hotel distribution platform.

Jones previously worked at Sabre Airline Solutions as well as in the GDS business at the Sabre Travel Network. A Sabre spokeswoman says Jones will not be replacing anyone in taking the president’s role at Sabre Airline Solutions, although the position is not a new one. Tom Klein, president of Sabre Holdings, oversees Sabre Airline Solutions.

In taking over as president and CEO of Travelocity, Sparks has experience in “consumer brands, online retail and travel,” Sabre says.

Sparks, who has a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a master’s from Harvard Business School, worked early in his career at Boston Consulting Group, as did former Travelocity CEO Michelle Peluso.

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Dennis Schaal

About the Writer :: Dennis Schaal

Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.



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