ECI takes majority stake in Amber Travel

ECI takes majority stake in Amber Travel

Private equity firm ECI Partners has taken a majority stake in rail travel company Amber Travel.

The deal values the York-based business at over £50 million.

The transaction has resulted in an exit by Primary Capital, which invested in Amber in 2005.

The deal will result in the company “redoubling” efforts to work with the trade.

York-based Amber Travel is the UK’s leading specialist, rail tour business, offering escorted group holidays to destinations around the world.

The business had a turnover of £67 million in the year to September 30, 2012 and is expecting further growth of 20% this year.

Chris Watt, head of ECI’s Consumer team, will sit on Amber’s board. He previously served as non-executive director for previous ECI travel portfolio companies, including Hoseseasons and Kirker, and currently serves on CarTrawler’s board.

Amber Travel executive chairman Nick Cust said: “We’re delighted to welcome ECI Partners aboard Amber.

“As a management team we are very excited about partnering with ECI, an organisation with a long and positive track record of past and current ownership of travel businesses.

“Since becoming chairman in January 2011, I have been very impressed by the quality, value and appeal of our holidays.

“This is reflected in more and more travel agents selling our packages – an area showing 35% growth this year – and ECI’s ownership will see us redoubling our efforts with the retail trade.”

Watt added: “This is a business with a highly differentiated proposition that appeals to the culturally interested traveller.

“Amber caters for an affluent, growing demographic, that wants to see the world. We are very excited about the prospects for continuing growth at the business, and we look forward to working with Nick and his team.”

Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking’s Acquisition Finance team solely provided a package of senior debt to support the transaction.

Acquisition finance director Rob Lawrence said: “Amber Travel’s differentiated and resilient business model, loyal customer base and experienced management team mean that it is well placed to continue growing in its niche travel markets.

“The backing of experienced investor ECI Partners will only accelerate this growth. We are pleased to continue our support for the business and reinforce our strong relationship with ECI.”

Harry Stoakes of BDO Corporate Finance, who advised ECI on the deal, added: “We are seeing a very buoyant market for mergers and acquisitions in the travel sector.

“This deal, which comes on the back of the recent sale of isango to Tui, demonstrates that there is real appetite for specialist operators which are well-positioned in emerging service areas, in isango’s case, or are addressing a particularly attractive customer base in Amber’s case.

“Amber’s Great Rail Journeys business has grown significantly following consistently strong demand from its, typically over 55, customer base for well organised, high end and cultural escorted tours, cementing its leadership in this robust segment of the market.”


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