Just days after it was strongly suggested by Tourico Holidays founder and CEO Uri Argov that different Chinese investors were interested in acquiring Hotelbeds—the B2B bedbank unit of TUI, it is Europe’s largest tour operator—sources in Mexico have said that Booking.com, one of the largest online travel agencies (OTAs) in the world, is interested in Hotelbeds. According to one of Mexico’s travel industry news sites, preferente.com, Booking.com “is the star finalist candidate” among potential buyers.
Ever since TUI announced late last year that the bedbank component of its business was up for sale, the guessing as to which investor has the inside track has involved names from throughout the world, with the European trade press suggesting that a leading candidate in the competition is EQT, the Swedish private equity firm that has acquired the remaining Kuoni brands, including the latter’s GTA bedbank.
Kuoni’s European tour operator brands were acquired last summer by DER Touristik and, shortly thereafter, its operations in India and Hong Kong were acquired by Thomas Cook India. Its remaining units included Kuoni’s headquarters office building in Zurich, along with GTA, its large B2B bedbank and group specialist, AlliedTPro, which is based in New York City. The speculation has been rampant in the European trade press that EQT has the inside track on Hotelbeds. Then, two weeks ago, during remarks about his company’s growing presence within China, Tourico’s Argov made mention of the competition to acquire Hotelbeds, saying he “would not be surprised if it were a combination of a Chinese company and investors from another company.”
Preferente.com also introduced a new name of those apparently in the bidding for Hotelbeds: Boston-based Bain Capital, the company founded in 1984 by Bill Bain and 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. Bain Capital owns Apple Leisure Group, a travel and resort company focused on packaged travel and hotel management in Mexico and the Caribbean.
The possibility that Booking.com is interested in Hotelbeds introduces a whole new element into the speculation over the future of the company. Booking.com is part of the Priceline Group, which, besides Priceline, includes agoda.com, KAYAK, rentalcars.com and OpenTable. Collectively The Priceline Group operates in more than 200 countries and territories in Europe, North America, South America, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa in over 40 languages.
One fact seems certain midst all of the competition: as a unit, Hotelbeds is expected to warrant at least its market value—estimated at more than $1 billion by most accounts—when sold by TUI.