Former Audley Travel chief executive Ian Simkins is joining villa specialist The Thinking Traveller as part of a £7 million private equity cash injection.

Simkins will join the luxury business, founded in 2002 with seven villas in Sicily, as executive chairman.

UK private equity firm Piper is investing in the company, which now offers 220 properties across seven destinations and achieved sales of £20 million last year.

Piper’s minority investment will see founders Huw and Rossella Beaugie continue to run the London-based firm as joint chief executives and majority shareholders.

The investment will help add more villas in new destinations around the Mediterranean through strategic acquisitions and partnerships, expand brand awareness in its core markets including the UK, Europe, the US and Australia, and to “scale the team”.

It is the ninth investment from a £123 million fund managing by Piper, following £11.5 million support for smart indoor cycling brand Wattbike in September.

Piper investment director Dan Stern, who led the deal, said: “Although the travel industry has been badly hit by Covid, our consumer insight work shows that people are more eager than ever to see new countries and experience new cultures.

“As a brand that is unrivalled in its satisfaction levels among both clients and villas owners, The Thinking Traveller is exceptionally placed to benefit from this pent-up demand as we emerge from the pandemic.

Simkins added: Huw and Rossella have built a great business with an incredibly strong brand and culture. I’m really excited about the opportunity to invest alongside Piper who have a proven pedigree in growing consumer brands, whilst keeping the founding values of businesses at their heart.”

The Beaugies said: “Over the past two years we have developed a close partnership with Piper who have consistently demonstrated how their expertise and advice can help propel our growth in the future.

“We have a number of strategic opportunities ahead and are delighted to have a partner alongside us who shares our values and ambitions for The Thinking Traveller.”