Cruise.co.uk has been sold to Bridgepoint Development Capital for £52 million.
The deal means private equity firm Risk Capital Partners, which acquired the online travel agency three years ago, has exited and sold its majority stake to Bridgepoint.
Several other bidders were involved in the process, and it is understood that Bridgepoint wasn’t the highest bidder.
The investment will help spearhead Cruise.co.uk’s UK and international growth. In recent months Cruise.co.uk has set up offices in Ireland and Australia, but its management team has openly admitted that it wanted to set up in other English speaking markets.
The agency's chief executive Seamus Conlon said: "We’re delighted to welcome Bridgepoint as a new partner and shareholder to help us take our business forward in its next stage of development. Their financial and operational expertise will power our ambitions, particularly as we look to expand internationally."
Adrian Willetts, partner of Bridgepoint Development Capital, who previously owned luxury French cruise line Ponant between 2012 and 2015, said: “Cruise.co.uk is an opportunity to invest in a market leading consumer business that has shown strong defensive characteristics and benefits from strong market trends that will underpin its ambitious growth plans.
"It has grown impressively and we will seek to maintain and enhance its ‘trusted expert’ reputation as we work with management to accelerate business growth through acquisitions and drive further value through digital and marketing expertise."
In a statement, Cruise.co.uk said its turnover had grown by 15% in 2015 to £104.5 million. It also delivered sales and Ebitda Compound Annual Growth Rate of 23% and 30% respectively over the last three years.
Chairman Andrew Gardner and Sukie Rapal, who led the initial online and international expansion strategies, have left the business to explore other opportunities.
Conlon added: “I need to give special thanks to two people who have been instrumental in our success to date. Andrew Gardner, who persuaded Carnival Corporation to allow us to buy the company back in 2007, and explained the world of cruising to me.
“Sukie Rapal executed our initial social, user generated content and web strategy, which is bedrock of our current success. Both have decided now is a good time to leave the business and explore other opportunities – but they were both key to the Cruise.co’s success.”
Tony Andrews, commercial and product director, has joined the board and will take over Sukie’s responsibilities for the commercial operations in Ireland and Australia, in addition to his UK remit.
The agency's website attracts 17 million visits a year, and claims to be the largest cruise travel agency website by traffic and content. It has 190,000 reviews and more than 260,000 cruise related questions and answers.
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