Equistone exits Travel Counsellors in secondary buyout

Equistone exits Travel Counsellors in secondary buyout

01 Jun 2018

Travel Counsellors, the global independent travel company, today announces that mid-market private equity house Equistone Partners Europe has realised its investment through a secondary buyout to Vitruvian Partners.

Travel Counsellors was founded in 1994 by travel entrepreneur David Speakman, and has expanded to include international operations in Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Australia and the UAE. In October 2014, Equistone backed a management buy-out of the business led by CEO Steve Byrne. Since then, the business has continued to experience rapid growth, with annual total transaction values growing by £130m to £512m. Statutory turnover and profit have also seen strong growth over the period, growing by an average of 17 per cent and over 20 per cent per annum respectively. 

From its global headquarters in Manchester, the company operates a franchisee model, with more than 1,800 self-employed Travel Counsellors working flexibly from home. This model is underpinned by the company’s proprietary technology platform, Phenix, which assists each Travel Counsellor to run their business and deliver high levels of personal service to both its leisure and business customers.

In 2017, the company was awarded the Best Customer Focus Award in the UK National Business Awards, and has been named in the Sunday Times HSBC International Track six times, including in each of the last three years.

Equistone has invested significantly to provide the platform for the business to rapidly grow and scale globally. The leadership team has been expanded, annual investment in technology has been doubled, supporting its franchisees with more than £6m set aside to spend on IT developments in upgrades in 2018, and the business now operates from a new state of the art headquarters.

Vitruvian Partners, which has previously backed travel businesses Skyscanner, JacTravel and OAG, as well as a number of technology-enabled marketplaces including listed technology company Just Eat, will continue to invest in and build on Travel Counsellors’ success bringing its wide sector and technology experience together with the company’s differentiated business model and culture.

Steve Byrne, Chief Executive at Travel Counsellors, said: “Steve O’Hare and Equistone have been integral to our recent success, helping us to scale the business, strengthen the leadership team and invest in the technology and support we provide to our franchisees and colleagues. We will always be grateful to them for the support and care they have shown the business, the people in it and the investments they have made in us. 

“The fact that we have secured a secondary buy-out is testimony to the confidence in the long term growth prospects and plans for the company. We have carefully chosen the right investment partner with the experience in technology particularly, who also have a deep and natural affinity to our business model and values. They will help us realise the many opportunities we have to grow in both the leisure and corporate markets globally and provide the platform for each of our franchisees to accelerate and future proof the growth of their own businesses.”

Steve O’Hare, Senior Partner at Equistone Partners Europe, said: “We have been proud to have been able to support Steve and the talented management team through investing and building the business over recent years and provide a platform for the business to continue to grow and scale even further, building on the foundations laid by David Speakman. It has been a pleasure to be involved in such a people orientated business and culture. I am looking forward to seeing the next phase of growth for Travel Counsellors and its incredible journey.”

Ben Johnson. Partner at Vitruvian Partners said “We are excited to announce our investment in Travel Counsellors. It is a business with a unique culture and reputation and high standing in the travel industry. We believe in its focus on empowering its Travel Counsellors to work flexibly and smarter using the company’s propriety technology. We only back exceptional high growth technology-enabled businesses with stable, proven leadership teams. We are proud to back the business and just want to help it grow and be even more successful.”

Equistone was advised by Rothschild (Corporate Finance), Deloitte and LEK (Due Diligence). Pinsent Masons provided legal advice.

Vitruvian was advised by GCA Altium (Corporate Finance) and Marlborough Partners (Debt). Mayer Brown provided legal advice, alongside due diligence support from OC&C, FTI Consulting and CG Consultancy.

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