Kuoni UK managing director Derek Jones is confident of significant interest from potential buyers of the group’s tour operating businesses over the next three months.
Jones said he was “passionately behind the sale” of all of the Swiss-owned Kuoni Travel Group’s tour operating interests in the UK, Switzerland, Benelux, Hong Kong/China, India and Scandinavia, which includes its 35 Kuoni-branded shops and 10 John Lewis concessions in the UK.
The Kuoni Travel UK group also includes specialist businesses Carrier, Kirker, Voyage Jules Verne, CV Villas and Journeys of Distinction.
Speaking to Travel Weekly, Jones said: “I don’t think there will be any shortage of interest. It’s a great brand, a great team and a great business.”
On the timing of the announcement, he added: “In honesty you would not choose to do it in the middle of the key trading period, but it gives us an opportunity to find a new owner this year and exit 2015 under new ownership.”
Jones would not speculate on which companies may be interested in buying the group’s entire tour operating businesses but is hopeful talks with interested parties will take place in the next few months.
“You can never be sure how long these things will take. We have got a clear view that we will be talking to interested parties within a three-month timeframe and then move to due diligence.”
Jones also stressed his commitment to the business and said the management team would hope to retain current staff and locations.
“’From my perspective I am committed to the business right through to the new ownership. This is a business I want to lead and I’m passionate about. Our biggest asset is our people and to some extent that’s what we are selling. We have got a motivated team that understands the rationale and the future.”
The management team would hope to seek reassurances that jobs and company locations would be retained, he said, adding some staff had been with the group for more than half of its 50 years’ trading in the UK.
Jones said the Kuoni group had already been moving towards its goal of creating a business focused on business-to-business and business-to-government travel services, buying Gullivers Travel Associates and selling off some of its tour operation businesses in France and Spain, for example.
“To some extent the group has been on a journey, moving to business-to-business travel services and away from business-to-consumers tour operating activities. This reflects a culmination of that journey and to some extent is a logical extension of that strategic route. The board has decided that’s where its future is.”
He dismissed concerns about the financial performance of the tour operating business or the sector as a whole. “This is not in any way a reflection of the UK business’s performance. Clearly, each of the tour operating businesses has delivered different performances but really the point is that it is a strategic decision.
“There is huge confidence in the sector. We don’t believe the tour operating businesses are a good fit with a business-to-business focused business in the future. I think under new ownership we can thrive. Our UK business is much more entrepreneurial than the group.”
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