The Oxfordshire-based firm is rumoured to be up for sale with its private equity owner Equistone Partners looking for bids of more than £200m – more than twice the £90m Equistone originally invested in Audley three years ago.
Audley increased turnover by 22% to £133.6m in 2014, compared with £109.2m in the previous year, according to accounts filed at Companies House. Operating profit rose by a more modest 2.5%, from £14.9m to £15.3m, over the same period.
The company hailed the results as “another successful year of growth”, with the directors adding that Audley was “well-positioned to serve its customers and continue to grow” in the long-haul tailor-made sector.
“Further growth can be achieved by increasing the breadth of travel choices we offer, as well as taking market share from competitors,” said the company in its financial report. The luxury operator has continued to expand by opening a London office in 2014 and its first US outpost in Boston.
This expansion has seen the number of employees increase from 252 in 2013 to 338 last year, leading to a 34.5% increase in annual staff costs to £12.6m. Current owner Equistone, which also purchased a majority stake in homeworking firm Travel Counsellors in October 2014, is reported to have hired investment bank Rothschild to find a new buyer for Audley.
Audley started trading in 1996, under its original name of Asian Journeys, when it was founded by Craig Burkinshaw and John Brewer. Riviera Tours, another travel firm recently purchased by a private equity investor, recorded a 15% rise in turnover from £106.3m in 2013 to £122.5m for the year ending on November 30, 2014.
However, Riviera’s operating profit fell from £9.1m in 2013 to £5.9m last year due to a £5.3m increase in administrative costs. The Staffordshire-based escorted touring and river cruise specialist was bought by Phoenix Equity Partners in December 2014, with the management team under managing director David Clemson staying in place and founder Michael Wright maintaining a “significant” shareholding.
Phoenix’s strategy for Riviera is to expand the programme of tours on offer and grow its presence within the river cruise market.