Southall Travel is actively looking to make its first acquisitions as it seeks to maintain the growth that has seen it establish itself in the mainstream travel sector over the last four years.
The travel agent and trade consolidator says it expects to increase revenues by 20% next year, on a par with the sort of growth levels it has been seeing consistently in recent years.
But having achieved its current stature purely through organic growth, Kuljinder Bahia, the firm’s managing director, told Travel Weekly he was now pursuing acquisition targets.
Southall Travel operates in three areas: as a travel agent specialising in the Asian ex-pat market; as an air fare and accommodation consolidator through its The Holiday Team trade arm; and in corporate travel with TMC Applehouse Travel.
Bahia said he would consider acquisitions in all three sectors as long as the deal was right for Southall Travel.
“We are actively looking at some companies who want to sell. If we see there are synergies we will look at it. It’s our hard-earned cash we’d be spending and we want to spend it wisely,” he said.
Southall Travel’s latest figures, for the year to the end of March, show company turnover grew £40 million to £240 million, with its mainstream business the fastest-growing sector.
“We do see further organic growth going forward,” Bahia said. “But that will not be the only way we grow. We will have to see how we grow organically.
“We need to remain focused on our task and our task is to grow. When you want to grow it doesn’t just happen by saying it, it takes a lot of planning and implementation.
“We are getting a lot of clients from word of mouth, and on the business-to-business side my team is very aggressive and we are trying to win over more agents.”
The Holiday Team currently has 1,700 agents signed up to use its system and that number is expected to increase, although more important is the volume of business they transact on it.
“One of the strengths of Southall Travel is that we were an agent ourselves. We were buying from consolidators so I think I have got a good feeling about what agents want because I have been in their position,” Bahia said.
Southall Travel started off serving purely the Asian UK market. Now, three-and-a-half years after launching The Holiday Team, 48% of its business comes from the mainstream market.
“Four or five years back we were only concentrating on 2% of the population of the UK. Now I’m competing with the whole of the UK,” said Bahia.
The success of Southall Travel, once a single-shop agency in the west London suburb from which it takes its name, has catapulted it and Bahia to prominence. The company was listed 148th on the Sunday Times Top Track 250 list last year, and Bahia was recently named in the top 1,000 of the Sunday Times Rich List for the first time. His family’s fortune estimated at £184 million.
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