The Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm, the Carlyle Group, is among the firms interested in acquiring the Kuoni Group as the latter seems to have given up on staying in the travel industry despite its efforts last year to re-capitalize and grow its business by offloading its European tour operator enterprises and stick to its core products. Among the buzz and news bytes circulating in the European trade and business news media on Jan. 4-5, the following points were established:
—The Zurich-based Kuoni Group—founded in 1906 by Alfred Kuoni, it is continental Europe’s oldest tour operator—is for sale, as the company hired two banks last month to review its plan to break up and sell its operations;
—Those firms apparently interested in Kuoni include the Swedish company EQT, BC Partners, Permira, Partners Group, and the Washington, D.C.-based private equity firm, the Carlyle Group;
—Because of its spotty financial performance in recent years, it appears unlikely that the selling price for Kuoni would exceed or even reach its current market value of $1.1 billion; and
—Any deal might not go anywhere should it fail to receive the approval of approved the Kuoni and Hugentobler Foundation, an entity set up by the founding family and which has a 25 percent voting stake that enables it to block any transaction.
Too Little, Too Late? Who’s Affected? Once considered a blue-chip investment, the Kuoni brand has hobbled along in recent years, selling off various parts of itself that were not a part of the B2B travel experience. This activity peaked last year when the company sold off its European operations to DER Touristik, Germany’s third-largest tour operator. Kuoni held onto AlliedTPro (the combined T-Pro and Allied Tours companies, which it acquired 2000-2002) and GTA, as well as brite spokes, the experiental travel brand that Kuoni launched in 2013. All three are based in New York City. Their fate is uncertain, regardless of who acquires Kuoni.
The Carlyle (Travel) Group? The global venture capital firm has aggressively pursued investments in the travel business in the past several years. In 2010, it acquired a majority interest in CVC, the largest travel company in Brazil. Last fall, it acquired two leading travel companies in Peru— Nuevo Mundo Viajes, an outbound company, and Condor Travel, an inbound operator—to form a single regional company, Nuevo Mundo. Earlier, in May 2014, Carlyle acquired a majority stake in Bonotel Exclusive Travel, the Las Vegas-based receptive tour operator that markets upscale product. Carlyle has also invested in Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency.