Investors are likely to be circling travel businesses next year despite the political and economic turbulence experienced in 2017, two leading finance experts have predicted.
Chris Lee, Barclays’ head of travel, conceded that Brexit, uncertain consumer confidence, terrorism and the weaker pound had affected 2017 negatively but added: “Most of my [travel] clients are saying that the year has been pretty good or OK.”
Lee was speaking at a travel conference organised by law firm Pinsent Masons.
He insisted the industry was still attractive to private equity firms, highlighting examples such as Audley Travel, JacTravel and Travelopia which have all sold for “fantastic multiples” on the original investment.
“There are [also] others in the pipeline,” he adding, citing Riviera Travel, which Lee hinted was likely to change hands soon.
Meanwhile Chris Photi, head of travel and leisure at accountants’ White Hart Associates, said buyers were looking for premium, niche businesses with a good technology platform and the potential for international expansion.
These include luxury travel brands and escorted tour agencies.
“They also like disrupters because they do something different – bed banks, no-frills airlines, online travel agencies,” he said.
Private equity firms are leading the investment field, Photi said.
“There have not been many [B2B] trade sales. One of the principal reasons is that the big two or three are not buying.”
However, he added: “I would expect there to be trade transactions in the not too distant future. It does seem that the trade is beginning to galvanise itself.”
The low interest rate environment is aiding investments of both kinds, the conference heard. This is because private equity companies find it more profitable to target high growth industries like travel, while trade investors can borrow money for acquisitions more cheaply.
Former Abta chairman John McEwan said: “Whilst interest rates are creeping up, investment by private equity is still fantastically cheap. Even if interest rates go up to 2 or 3%, it is still very cheap money.”