Comment: 2024 looks bright for travel M&A

Grant Thornton partner Nicola Sartori analyses how consumers including sports fans and wealthy travellers will continue to drive deals

The atmosphere at Travel Weekly’s Globe Travel Awards in January cemented for me the outlook of a sector with Covid in its rearview mirror. Talk has moved from ‘resilience’ to ‘growth’, and ‘challenge’ to ‘opportunity’.

UK consumers are driving the change by prioritising travel spend, against a still challenging economic environment, by booking package holidays in record numbers and spending billions on getaways. The result was a positive return in 2023 for travel M&A, in which 40 deals crossed the line.

2023 is arguably the first year in which post-pandemic bounceback hasn’t influenced travel activity. The absence of this external factor in 2023 trading data means buyers and sellers can enter talks with clarity on underlying business performance.

We’re seeing this momentum continue into 2024. Several deals have already completed in January, and our M&A and due diligence teams are strapping in for a busy 2024.

Nine deals in the final quarter of 2023 ensured the year for travel sector M&A finished on a high. They brought 2023’s deal volume to 40, reflecting returning confidence in the sector. Although this annual total appeared down on 2022 and 2021, those years were artificially boosted by distressed or stressed deals and UK hotel deals.

The total value for 2023 deals with publicly disclosed financial information stood at £1.29 billion. This is a drop from the £4.90 billion reported in 2022 but close to the £1.36 billion achieved in 2019.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) significant investment in Rocco Forte Hotels will accelerate the family-run luxury group’s acceleration into new and existing markets.

The founding Forte family will remain at the helm of the group, which operates hotels, resorts and private villas. The deal marks an exit for Italian state-backed CDPE Investimenti, which owned a 23% shareholding. It invested €80 million in the hotel group in 2015.

Subsector spotlight

Buyers target hotels

Hotels remained the most popular subsector in Q4, representing 67% of deals. Five of the six transactions involved overseas buyers from Saudi Arabia, Spain, Ireland, Norway, and the USA, respectively.

Compared to other real estate subsectors, where rents are often fixed for years at a time, hotels are attractive because room rates can be varied daily to reflect inflation. The gap between seller and buyer price expectations has also narrowed, as interest rates have – at least for the time being – plateaued. This enables deals that work for both parties.

Many 2023 hotel acquisitions were the first step in development plans to build a portfolio or to invest significant time and money into repositioning properties for a niche, such as the leisure market. Buyers with the funds to execute this strategy will continue to seek suitable assets, driving deal activity in 2024.

Private equity interest

2023 was also the year we saw mainstream private equity return to investing in the travel sector.  Although private equity only accounted for two deals in Q4, their appetite to invest in the sector has returned and they are looking for opportunities to deploy capital.

Travel trends

In addition to a strong appetite for hotels, we should see the following factors drive deals in 2024:

Niche tour groups

Destination Sport’s recent acquisition (of The Mike Burton Group) reflects a sector-wide hunger for travel companies that cater to highly specific passenger groups like sport fans, youth groups and school children.

Young money

Our Cut Back Economy report shows that younger generations are forgoing shopping trips and major purchases over travel. This may be why, in Q4, UK-based Osprey Investments invested $20 million in Selina Hospitality, which specialises in guest houses for digital nomads.

Digital innovation

Q4’s successful sale of Attraction World Group reveals opportunities for innovation and further digitalisation in an increasingly tech-focused sector.

High-end luxury

The (trade) sales of Scott Dunn and Mr & Mrs Smith in 2023 show appetite for brands that cater to a financially resilient end-consumer.


In December 2023, P&O Cruises owner Carnival Corporation posted record full-year revenue of $21.6 billion. High demand for the high seas is expected to continue in 2024.


A recent survey revealed that 46% of travel companies intend to increase ESG investment in 2024. This may drive investor interest in firms that provide sector-specific environmental consultancy and technology services.

Three reasons we’ll see more travel deals in 2024

1 Clear post-pandemic data

In 2022, travel companies posted strong results, and emerging 2023 trading data proves that these weren’t just a post-Covid bounce, giving trade buyers and private investors the green light to invest.

2 Private equity seeks exits

The pandemic severely disrupted the typical three-to-five-year exit cycle for private equity-owned businesses. Those who acquired assets prior to 2020 are now assessing their options, for what are now (in many cases) proving to be high-performing assets.

3 Trade appetite remains strong

Trade buyers were responsible for 75% of transaction activity in 2023, reflecting that travel companies are no longer hunkering down but growing through strategic mergers and bolt-ons.

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