Stella Travel Services UK has sold its Harvey World Travel agencies to the owner of an agency in its Independent Options shop network.
The 58 shops have been sold to the owner of Vacation Travel, an agency with four stores, which is part of the Global Travel Group's Independent Options arm, which offers ABTA membership.
The sale, for an undisclosed sum, will mean the Harvey World Travel logo will be taken off the stores after a short period. Most of the shops are located in the West country and East Anglia and are former Let's Go and Galaxy Travel shops, which were sold to Harvey World Travel.
It is understood the deal caught other interested buyers unawares. One consortium, from outside the travel industry, was known to be bidding to buy the group in a controversial pre-packaged sale.
Stella Travel Services UK managing director Andrew Botterill said the motivation for the sale was not based on HWT's finances but to ensure the group had one franchisee business model across its UK shop network.
He said: "For us it means we have now got the same model around the world in all of our markets. We are not a retailer because we don't own the shops. It wasn't about profitability, it was about a model we wanted to operate in the UK. Some of the shops were profitable and some weren't. We preferred to sell them to someone who wanted all of them and it was attractive to sell them to someone that was going to keep them within the [Stella] group."
Botterill admitted he had not been in favour of rolling out the Harvey World Travel retail brand in the UK, despite its success in other international markets. It started trading in the UK in 2004 under the management of former managing director John Donnelly, who had hoped to grow the chain to become the third-largest UK reatil chain.
He said: "Harvey World Travel is a really well-known brand in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. For us to make it as well known in the UK would have required a lot of investment. I don't believe the UK needs another retail brand on the high-street."
The move means Independent Options will now have just over 350 members.
Botterill said the group was now focused on making Travel 2 the UK's number one wholesaler of flights and accommodation, and on building up its tour operation. He added that Travel 2's trading for the first quarter of 2009 had been "broadly in line with expectations". He said: "We are very happy with the way it is trading."
Although acquisitions are not off the agenda, he said the focus for Stella Travel Services UK was consolidation.
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