Cruise.co.uk secures £52m private equity funding

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.

Cruise.co.uk poised to be sold for £50 million

by Amie Keeley

Cruise.co.uk is reported to be up for sale for £50million.

Private equity firm Risk Capital Partners, which acquired the website just under three years ago, is in talks to sell the company to Bridgepoint Development Capital, according to Sky News.

Sky claims a deal could be announced next week.

The cruise specialist’s business grew by 67% after investment and backing from Risk Capital Partners, which was founded by entrepreneur Luke Johnson.

Other parties rumoured to have put in offers include TripAdvisor; the owner of Lastminute.com; and Inflexion Private Equity.

Bridgepoint has owned French-based Ponant, which specialises in luxury polar excursions.

Sky said both Risk and Bridgepoint declined to comment.

Cruise1st attracts potential buyers as owner Royal Caribbean puts agency up for sale

Royal Caribbean-owned cruise agency Cruise1st has been put up for sale and is understood to have attracted at least three potential trade buyers.

It is known that at least one of the cruise specialist agencies interested in buying the business has submitted an offer for Cruise1st, which is a trading division of Sunshine Cruise Holidays and employs more than 100 staff in the UK, Australia and Singapore.

In a statement, Manchester-based Cruise1st said it was “exploring the possibility” of an external sale and also strongly considering a management buyout.

Royal Caribbean declined to comment.

A source told Travel Weekly that a deal could be struck within the next couple of weeks.

Dan Townsley, chief executive of Cruise1st, said he was eager to weigh up options for the business, adding: “We’re in a position to explore our options and make the right choice for the business that will support our ambitious growth plans.”

The agency launched in 2000 and was acquired by Island Cruises three years later. Following the merger of First Choice and Tui UK, Cruise1st became wholly owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises in 2008.

In the past four years the agency’s booking numbers are claimed to have grown by 83%, and Townsley said the business had “aggressive expansion plans”.

The cruise sector has witnessed several acquisitions in recent years, including Iglu Cruise’s purchase of Planet Cruise in 2013 and dnata taking a stake in Imagine Cruising last month.

Private equity firms have also shown interest in cruise businesses, with both Cruise.co.uk and Iglu Cruise receiving backing.

The latter received further investment last week in a deal, believed to be worth £60 million, with private equity backer LDC. This prompted Iglu founder Richard Downs to say he was looking at acquisitions.