Trade-only operator If Only has been acquired by Elegant Resorts owner Portman Travel Group for an undisclosed sum.
The deal will see If Only founders Brendan and Mary Maguire retire 18 years after setting up the business.
The senior team, including Andy Freeth, Gordon McCreadie, Tracy Docherty and David Irving, will remain with the company.
Freeth said the If Only and Elegant Resorts brands will remain “distinctly separate” from one another, and there are no immediate changes planned for either business.
Portman chief executive Redmond Walsh said: “I’ve known Andy for 10 years and (the brand) is an obvious fit given Portman is already in the luxury space with Elegant Resorts.”
Walsh said the business was appointing a brand consultant to “settle the relationship between the two luxury brands”, but said Elegant tended to be at “the upper end of the luxury space” with a higher average booking value and also sold its holidays through direct channels.
Freeth said the deal would give If Only access to a wider portfolio of products and it would benefit from group air buying.
“The brands will stay distinctively separate, and the staff separate, but we will have the backing of a well-capitalised group,” he added.
“We didn’t do a full and wide search by appointing a corporate financial (firm).
“It was always the intention to keep things under the radar. I have a large contacts book so I spoke to a handful of interested parties and a number of people showed interest.”
But Freeth said the “cultural fit, ethos, similarity in the brands” and his relationship with Redmond led to the deal with Portman going ahead.
“We’re going to share our plans over the coming months,” Freeth said. “The focus has been on getting the deal concluded but we’ve immediately got access to a wider portfolio of products, enhanced air product through group air buying and in the coming weeks and months we will look at customers’ demands.”
Freeth said If Only would look to invest in its tech platforms, but the focus currently was the peak booking period.
If Only has expanded its product portfolio in the last 18 months to include new destinations including the USA and the Caribbean, as well as luxury cruises. It has also moved to new premises in Glasgow and installed a new telephony system to reduce call wait times.
A new Far East brochure is due to launch featuring Japan and China for the first time.
If Only almost doubled its Atol licence in October 2018 to 15,387, up from 8,200 in 2017, while sales have grown 50% since Freeth and other senior executives joined the business from dnata 18 months ago.
He said the collapse of Thomas Cook caused “some challenges but Hays Travel have picked up some of the slack”.
Brendan Maguire said: “When I recruited Andy, he was tasked with finding an investor with a similar culture, integrity, ethos and a fit that would allow the business to thrive and grow in the future.
“While Mary and I are sad to leave a business we’ve worked so hard on; we see this investment as a really exciting opportunity for the brand and the team.
“If Only is a long-established and respected trade business, and this is a brilliant move for our partners and customers.
“The acquisition will allow Andy and his team to continue the phenomenal growth delivered.
“I would personally like to thank all of the team at If Only, our suppliers and our travel agent partners for their support over the last 18 years and look forward to retirement”.
Portman Travel Group bought Elegant Resorts and travel management company Clarity from Thomas Cook in 2014.
Clarity acquired Ian Allan Travel earlier this year.
Podcast – If Only’s Andy Freeth and Gordon McCreadie
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