Following the rebound in overseas travel in 2022, it looks as if appetite for travel is here to stay. Industry data backs this up. In its half-year results statement, British Airway’s owner, IAG, said it expects full-year 2023 capacity to be around 97% of pre-pandemic levels. US-listed cruise operator Carnival similarly predicted Q4 occupancy to reach 98% of 2019 levels.

Passenger confidence is feeding through to M&A activity as financial investors and trade buyers become more bullish about the sector’s recovery. As confidence builds, trade parties are shifting from opportunistic acquisitions into strategic investment, to facilitate continued growth and diversify into new markets.


Travel M&A activity overview in third quarter

Announced M&A activity in travel & accommodation quarterly (UK targets or acquirors)

Graph depicting Announced M&A activity in travel & accommodation quarterly (UK targets or acquirors)


In Q3 2023, there were 11 deals overall, up 10% on the previous quarter and 37.5% on the same quarter last year.


Private equity (PE) versus trade

Announced PE activity in travel and accommodation - quarterly


Private equity accounted for 27% of deals in Q3, compared with 10% in the prior quarter.

Q3 deals were characterised by minority investments and fundraisings, demonstrating interest from growth-orientated investors.


Going for growth: Q3 private equity deals

In August 2023, Aermont Capital, the UK-based real estate property manager, acquired an undisclosed stake in Pellicano SPA, the Italy-based hotels operating group.

In September 2023, TravelLocal secured an £8.3 million Series B fundraising from investors, including Puma Private Equity. TravelLocal is an online platform that connects travellers with tour operators in their chosen destination.

Also in September 2023, German digital hospitality platform NUMA Group announced that it had raised USD 59 million of growth equity capital in a Series C funding round. Verlinvest SA led the investment consortium that included London’s DN Capital.


Corporate travel deals focus on specialisms

Business flight bookings are on the rise. Data from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) predicts business travel will soon catch up. The sector is expected to surpass its pre-pandemic spending level of USD 1.4 trillion in 2024 and grow to nearly USD 1.8 trillion by 2027.

Other sources are less optimistic, however. In August, a Financial Times report detailed how Europe’s three major airline groups reported a drop in the recovery rate in corporate travel.

In Q3, this is perhaps why corporate travel investors targeted specialist travel companies which cater to resilient passenger groups.


Portman Travel Group does the double

Portman Travel Group, owned by Saudi-based corporate ventures firm Seera, made two acquisitions in Q3 through its Destination Sport and Clarity subsidiaries.

In August 2023, Clarity acquired corporate travel management company Agiito from Capita plc for an enterprise value of £36.5 million on a cash and debt-free basis.

Then in September 2023, Destination Sport announced the acquisition of Sportsworld, a specialist in the design and delivery of international hospitality and travel programmes for sponsors, corporations, spectators, and governing bodies. Key to the attraction of Sportsworld is its presence in a market where in-person participation is essential, providing insulation from the widespread adoption of video conferencing.


Primary Capital invests in Diversity Travel

In September 2023, Primary Capital invested in Diversity Travel, an international travel management company servicing humanitarian, academic, and not-for-profit communities.

The company has a suite of technology-led services providing specialist content, enabling clients to reduce travel spend, increase traveller policy compliance, and fulfil duty-of-care obligations. Travel is a necessity for its clients who work in disaster zones, again making it a more resilient travel play.


Property companies drive hotel deals

In July 2023, Swedish-based property company Pandox AB acquired the Hilton Belfast from Starwood Capital for around £40 million. Axiom Hospitality will operate the hotel under the Hilton brand.

In the same month, Henderson Park, a private equity real estate manager, bought Edinburgh’s Waldorf Astoria for £85 million from the hospitality investment arm of UAE-based Lulu Group International. It marked Henderson Park’s third investment in Edinburgh hotels in the past two years. The hotel will be run by its in-house hospitality firm, Klarent Hospitality.

Seizing the M&A momentum

We expect deal activity to further pick up in early 2024 as sellers and buyers – from sole traders to larger corporations – take advantage of positive momentum in the travel industry.

We’re also hosting the following industry event covering all you need to know about buying or selling your travel business.

For more travel M&A insight and guidance, get in touch with Nicola Sartori.