—Ant Financial, Parent of Alipay, Acquires UK Payments Company: Upping the ante in its battle with Tencent and its WeChat payment service, Ant Financial, the financial tech division of Alibaba Group has expanded its global footprint through its acquisition of the UK digital payments company WorldFirst. Published accounts have put the price of the move at about $700 million. In a letter to customers, WorldFirst Chief Executive Jonathan Quin said, “We believe that becoming a part of the Ant Financial group and of the wider Alibaba ecosystem will create opportunities for us to grow our existing relationship with you.” Quin will stay on as chief executive after the acquisition is complete. The action follows Ant Financial’s attempted acquisition of the U.S. -based transfer company MoneyGram, which was blocked by the U.S. government last year. Ant Financial’s Alipay, which is one of China’s largest e-payment platforms. Alipay has more than 700 million users in China and more than 200 million users abroad. Its major competitor is the payment app of WeChat, which is owned by Tencent Holdings Limited, a Chinese multinational investment holding conglomerate, whose subsidiaries specialize in various Internet-related services and products. Over the last few years, Ant Financial has pursued partnerships with numerous merchants in Europe which now accept payment from Chinese tourists and online shoppers through Alipay. WeChat Pay launched in Europe in 2017. That year Tencent worked with SafeCharge, a British payment technology company, to make WeChat Pay available at point-of-sale locations in the UK for the first time.
—Abercrombie & Kent Bought back by its Founder and a Familiar Partner: Geoffrey Kent, the founder of one of the best known luxury tour operator brands in the world—Abercrombie & Kent—has joined with Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, executive chairman of Silverseas Cruises, and has acquired a majority stake in the company from its previous owner, Chinese firm Zhonghong Holdings Group, along with Kent. The transaction has Kent increasing his stake in A&K to 15 percent, with the remaining 85 percent now belonging to Lefebvre d’Ovidio’s Heritage Group, which also owns his remaining shares in Silverseas Cruises.
Kent described the deal as “meant to be”. He said several “big name” companies and private equity firms had been interested in buying Zhonghong Holdings Group’s shares, but during the process for the right buyer—apparently Lefebvre d’Ovidio—sold a majority share (66 percent) in Silverseas Cruises, giving him the capital to buy A&K. Kent and Lefebvre d’Ovidio told Travel Weekly UK that they would work together to “greatly accelerate” A&K’s growth, believing the brand could double or triple in size. Kent said: “Abercrombie & Kent will continue as it is but with accelerated growth. Instead of establishing one, two or three DMCs a year, we can do five or 10.”
—Australian tour operator Flight Centre Travel Group (FLT) has said that it has formally completed its acquisition of Casto Travel Inc. (CTI), a Silicon Valley-based corporate travel business. FLT announced plans to acquire Casto’s U.S.-based operations last December, with company officials saying that the deal would enhance FLT’s overall corporate travel footprint. Established in 1974, CTI is an independent travel management company in the San Francisco Bay Area with 85 employees and a total transaction volume of $120 million. It has three offices in San Jose, San Francisco and Tiburon. Outgoing CEO Marc Casto told the publication Luxury Travel Advisor that the company has an approximately 75 percent – 20 percent corporate – leisure mix, with the remaining 5 percent of business coming from passport and visa processing.
FLT Managing Director Graham Turner said that the acquisition would strengthen the company’s overall operations in the United States, which includes corporate travel, leisure travel and the wholesaler GOGO Vacations. He said the deal would also give the company greater scale in Silicon Valley and the West Coast market. Flight Centre Travel Group, which is based in Brisbane, Australia, entered the U.S. market in late 2007-early 2008 with the purchase of GOGO and Liberty Travel. The company has since launched a new brand for independent travel agents, Independent by Liberty Travel, and continued to expand worldwide.