The UK's TMC market has long been rich in numbers and diversity – 'overpopulated', even. And over the years there have been spates of mergers and acquisitions as TMCs look to gain market share, add expertise or make opportunistic moves for competitors. Significant reshuffles occurred in 2006 and 2014, and market consolidation is a permanent feature of the industry. Here we chart the key deals in the UK TMC sector since 2016 as M&A activity accelerated, with the Covid pandemic of 2020-2021 further influencing takeovers and, sadly, the demise of several agencies too.
Wings Travel Management announced the acquisition of Grosvenor Travel Management for an undisclosed sum. Grosvenor at the time managed £60 million in annual travel predominantly for corporates in the oil and gas, security, finance and legal sectors. Founded in South Africa, the acquisition also marked Wings’ move of its global headquarters to London.
Colpitts World Travel, with offices in the UK, US and Canada, was bought by Direct Travel, the US TMC that had grown through a dozen agency acquisitions in just a few years and proclaimed it was “back on the acquisition trail”.
Clarity Travel Management and Portman Travel merged to create what at the time became the seventh largest TMC in the UK, with £400million gross annual sales. The merger, which came a year after Co-operative Travel Management had rebranded as Clarity, was led by CEO Pat McDonagh. The Portman brand was retired a year after the deal.
It was a double deal for acquisition-hungry Gray Dawes Travel, then ranked 29th largest TMC in the UK, which bought both Travel Management Group (TMG) and Cambridge Business Travel (CBT). CEO Suzanne Horner said the deals achieved its goal to propel the business into of the 20 largest TMCs in the UK, trading in excess of £100 million per year.
Australia-based Corporate Travel Management (CTM) expanded its UK footprint with the acquisition of Redfern Travel a year after it moved into Europe through the purchase of Chambers Travel Management. The Redfern deal was expected to take CTM’s consolidated European total transactional value to £500-550 million in the next financial year.
Public sector travel specialist Capita Travel and Events snapped up York-based NYS Corporate, with both organisations having sizeable events divisions. The two were ranked 6th and 30th respectively in 2017 Leading 50 TMCs.
Statesman Travel Group was acquired by US-based Travel and Transport. Statesman, ranked 16th largest TMC in the UK, added £147 million in annual sales and 150 staff to Travel and Transport’s $3.5 billion annual global sales and 1,600-strong workforce.
In one of the year’s smaller TMC deals, EFR Travel Group bought Manchester-based CSR Travel. Established in 1969, CSR specialised in the corporate, luxury leisure, film, TV and entertainment sectors.
Mid-market TMCs Direct Travel and ATPI announced a merger which was billed by BTN Europe as “the birth of another global TMC player” and “a new competitor to the mega TMCs”. Both companies had themselves grown through a sequence of acquisitions in their respective US and European markets. The combined operation broke more than $7 billion in annual sales and employed 4,500 people in more than 160 locations. The Direct Travel and ATPI brands continued in their markets with Direct ATPI Group operating as a separate organisation.
Twelve months later and it was another December deal for Gray Dawes Travel as it announced the purchase of Chelsea Travel Management (CTM). It became its fifth acquisition in three years. The TMCs had been named 21st and 28th largest TMCs in the UK respectively in 2017.
It was the big one. American Express Global Business Travel announced its impending acquisition of HRG, with the combined organisation usurping CWT as both the UK and world’s largest travel management company. In the UK, Amex GBT and CWT were ranked third and second-largest respectively with annual sales of £1.12 billion and £865 million.
More mid-market consolidation with Reed & Mackay buying Hillgate Travel, taking global turnover past £600 million. Reed & Mackay had already added Gray’s Travel Management and Frequent Flyer Travel Paris since being bought by private equity firm Inflexion in 2016.
Gray Dawes Travel’s now familiar winter shopping trip saw it acquire Giles Travel, taking annual turnover from £115 million to £150 million. The TMC said its target was £200 million within three years through acquisitions and organic growth.
Its second acquisition in two years saw Hertfordshire-based EFR Travel Group take over Glasgow’s WD Travel. The purchase of the TMC, which specialised in the shipping, oil and gas, bioscience, entertainment and IT sectors, pushed EFR into the UK’s top 40 travel management providers.
Clarity Travel announced the acquisition of Ian Allan Travel for an undisclosed sum. Based in Shepperton and Bristol, Ian Allan Travel was founded in 1964 and specialised in corporate, educational and charity travel. It employed 80 staff at the time of the deal.
The latest deal under ownership of private equity backers Inflexion saw Reed & Mackay acquire the Business Travel Direct (BTD) division of Ickenham Travel. Reed & Mackay chief executive Fred Stratford said: “This continues to be a truly exciting time for our people and our clients. Our focus has always been on strategic growth, built both organically and through acquisition, where there is a natural and strong alignment to our core values.”
Slightly earlier than in previous years, Gray Dawes Travels’ apparently annual acquisition saw it move in on Amber Road which had rebranded from CTI the previous year. The deal drove annual turnover past £200 million and took its headcount to nearly 300. Gray Dawes was placed 16th in 2019’s Leading 50 TMCs.
Ventur, known at the time as Traveleads, announced the formal integration and merger of Sterling by Global Travel Solutions Group following its acquisition the previous year. Founded in 1971, the TMC had an annual turnover of £39 million.
Business Travel by STA became the first corporate travel business to succumb to the Covid pandemic as parent company STA Travel ceased trading. The company had more than 50 leisure travel shops across the UK and also operated the full-service travel management company which specialised in the academic sector. Around 500 UK jobs across the organisation were thought to be affected. “It’s very saddening to see the demise of such a well-regarded leisure and business travel firm, and particularly the impact that will have on its employees and their families,” said Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association, of which the TMC had been a member.
Australia’s Corporate Travel Management announced the purchase of Travel & Transport for US$200.4 million. Radius Travel, the global travel agency network purchased in 2018 by Travel and Transport, was included in the deal. The companies' joint 2019 total sales were around US$7.6 billion, according to the TMCs, making the combined entity one of the world's largest TMCs. It was the largest deal in the US business travel industry since the pandemic struck. In the UK market, the TMCs had been named 5th and 15th largest, with the deal expected to see CTM leapfrog BCD Travel into fourth place on the list.
Bristol-based Thornton’s Travel, which handled £4 million in business travel bookings in 2019, ceased trading after 80 years. The company said: "It is with deepest sadness that we announce Thornton’s Travel ceased trading on the 30th September 2020. We were very proud to have reached our 80th anniversary and would not have achieved this without our amazing staff, suppliers and clients." The privately owned company, whose corporate clients spanned the oil and gas, engineering, defence, entertainment and manufacturing sectors, was a member of the Advantage Travel Partnership, Focus Travel Partnership and the Business Travel Association.
UK travel management company arrangeMY, which came 36th in BTN Europe’s 2020 Leading 50 TMCs ranking, acquired the client book of Tewkesbury-based Gloucester Express Business Travel. Gloucester Express ceased trading after the transfer of its clients.
Horncastle Executive Travel became the latest victim of the Covid pandemic’s devastation of the business travel industry. The Newcastle-based company had specialised in the marine and oil and gas sector and had branches in Edinburgh and Norwich. It had been named the UK’s 45th largest TMC earlier in the year with £13.9 million of sales.
American Express Global Business Travel acquired New York-based Ovation Travel Group, the parent company of Ovation Travel, Lawyers Travel and, in the UK, Chartwell Travel. The TMC said it continues to execute on its acquisition strategy in the US small and medium enterprise market.
Leeds‐based Ventur, then known as Traveleads, acquired Omega Business Travel of Hersham in Surrey. Ventur, which manages clients in corporate, sports and groups, energy and offshore, schools, film and media travel, was ranked 31st with sales of £36.7 million in 2020's year's Leading 50 TMCs. Omega Business Travel was 47th with 2019 sales of £11 million.
Baxter Hoare, one of the oldest travel management companies in the UK, ceased trading. The company, based in London Bridge, was founded as a freight forwarding company in 1883. It was a member of both the Advantage Travel Partnership and Focus Travel Partnership. Owner and managing director Adam White laid the blame firmly at the foot of the government due to its lack of support for the travel sector. "I have absolutely no doubt that others will follow," said White. "What I am hearing is that there are a number of travel companies right on the brink at the moment."
Emerald TMC, based in Baker Street in north London, ceased trading. The company, the corporate travel management division of Emerald Global Group, was founded in 1980 by Gabriel Ng-Wong who died in February 2020 and the business was taken over by his sons. The TMC division, which accounted for around 10 per cent of the group’s £57.6 million revenues in 2020, was headed up by Caroline Atkinson.
American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) revealed a binding offer to acquire Egencia, the corporate travel arm of Expedia. As part of the transaction, Expedia Group will become a shareholder in, and enter a long-term strategic commercial agreement with, GBT. The deal creates a global travel management behemoth, with the organisations already believed to be the world’s largest and fourth or fifth largest TMCs.
Global Travel Management (GTM) announces the acquisition of some of the assets of Baxter Hoare from the administrators, including the company’s brand. The company offers to continue servicing Baxter Hoare’s client base which GTM’s managing director Scott Pawley said was “similar in many ways to that of GTM”.
The day after details of the Amex GBT-Egencia deal were revealed, TripActions unveiled its own growth ambitions with the acquisition of Reed & Mackay from its private equity owners Inflexion. Founded in 2016, US-based TripActions had recently secured US$155 million in Series E funding. Its purchase of high-touch specialist Reed & Mackay signaled its intention to broaden its tech-first reputation.
Good Travel Management became the third organisation in two days to announce an acquisition impacting the UK's TMC market – albeit on a different scale to the two deals that went before it. The Hull-based travel management company, which was ranked 41 in last 2020’s Leading 50 TMCs, acquired the customer base and ongoing client servicing activity of West Yorkshire’s Company Travel.
TravelPerk, Europe's seventh largest TMC, acquires the UK’s 12th largest travel management company, Birmingham-based Click Travel. The deal, the terms of which were not disclosed, was underwritten by The Baupost Group, a Boston-based investment manager with roughly US$31bn in assets under management. According to TravelPerk, Click Travel handles more than £300 million in business travel spend for 2,000+ clients including burger chain Five Guys, energy drink maker Red Bull and mobile phone company TalkTalk. In the year to 31 March, the TMC reported turnover of £262.6 million.
Kanoo Travel UK, which had seven travel agencies and nine foreign exchange offices around the country, ceased trading. It had both retail and corporate businesses but in recent years had been shifting its focus to the latter, which generated 87 per cent of its revenues in 2019. Kanoo Travel UK had been part of American Express GBT's travel partner network. The TMC said in a statement: "GBT is aware that Kanoo Travel UK has ceased operations. Kanoo Travel Middle East is not affected and continues to service GBT clients as normal."
Chris Thelen, the former CEO of North America for travel management company CTM, and the TMC’s former general manager UK, Julie Cope, teamed up to launch TakeTwo Travel Solutions. The start-up TMC targets premium SMEs initially in the UK and Europe before expanding to the US. It claimed at launch to have already signed clients with combined pre-Covid annual travel spend of £11.5 million and a new business pipeline of a further £40 million.
Travel management company arrangeMY acquired corporate events specialist Ellis Salsby. Both organisations are based in Worcestershire, UK. The TMC had pre-Covid sales of around £32 million and with the acquisition expected to add a further £8 million in business. “We’re looking at a £40 million business, although that won’t be this year or next,” said Nick Scott, arrangeMY managing director. “Business is coming back with a vengeance though. There’s a lot of pent-up demand.”
Global Travel Management acquired the clientbase of Buckinghamshire-based Flightline Travel Management. Surrey-based GTM, ranked 44th in the UK’s Leading TMCs, said the deal will enable it to offer continuity of service to Flightline’s clients. Both are members of the UK’s Focus Travel Partnership which largely specialises in serving small and medium-sized businesses. GTM did not acquire the Flightline Travel Management brand, with Flightline likely to pursue business in other areas of the travel industry.
Equinox Travel, a new TMC specialising in travel services for clients in the music and entertainment business, commences operations. The travel management company, founded by former The Appointment Group (TAG) and ET Travel Ltd directors Ian Patterson and Glen Duckworth, is complemented by the simultaneous launch of private jet provider Equinox Charter. The London-based company says it specialises in delivering high-touch “bespoke travel solutions and managing complex itineraries” for bands and solo artists, agents, tour managers and film production companies, as well as professional sportspersons, athletes, sports agents, and corporate and luxury leisure travel.
Chris Thelen, CEO and founder of recently launched TakeTwo Travel Solutions, acquires UK’s Eton Travel Group. The acquisition will “save jobs and talent whilst ensuring continuity of service to its clients”, said a statement from Thelen, which added the company was “under pressure due to the pandemic” and “facing an uncertain future”. Berkshire-based Eton had a pre-pandemic turnover of more than £40 million and around 150 clients.
Discover the background to Europe’s multinational TMCs whose presence span the continent, read analysis of the UK, French and German TMC markets, and explore the mergers and acquisitions reshaping the industry