TORONTO — This is a heck of a time for an agency owner to think about buying or selling a travel agency.
And yet, deals are happening, even in these roller coaster conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it’s true that the year-long halt in travel has agency owners facing extraordinary circumstances, it’s also true that the recovery will come. The timeline is uncertain, but it will come.
And with that in mind some agency owners are putting together deals they believe will provide strong positioning for the post-pandemic travel boom.
Others are taking a wait-and-see approach. That’s especially true for agency owners looking to sell, says Gary Gaudry, President, Maritime Travel.
Asked whether Maritime Travel has been getting inquiries from agencies looking to sell amid the pandemic, said Gaudry: “We have been approached by a few agencies (not as many as the good times!) and my advice has been to tell them to wait if they can. Selling in a time like this is not good for them – it would be better for them to wait for business to return before selling (even if business if only partially back). We have purchased one agency but for the most part people I have talked to are waiting.”
Another travel retailer known for its acquisitions and successful growth strategy is Direct Travel and its leisure arm here in Canada, Vision Travel.
Brian Robertson, President, Western Canada for Direct Travel, says the company continues to pursue deals and has non-disclosure agreements currently in play with various travel agencies across Canada and the U.S.
The federal government’s financial assistance programs, including CEWS, CERS, CERB/CRB and more “have allowed agencies to ‘hibernate’ until we see better days ahead,” says Robertson.
Of the agencies that have reached out, “some travel agency owners and/ or independent contractors have elected to become hosted by Vision Travel and Direct Travel to be able to stay in business and eliminate most of their operational and regulatory responsibilities. Other agencies are interested in our new purchase formula, however many seem to be prepared to wait for the return of travel.”
Travelweek checked in with two agencies who made big decisions in these unprecedented times. Saskatoon-based Uniglobe Carefree Travel acquired Uniglobe LGI Travel. And Barrie, ON’s Charrisma Travel Group was recently acquired by Bolton, ON’s Sportscorp Travel.
Uniglobe Carefree’s co-owner, Jamie Milton, says the decision to buy Uniglobe LGI was fuelled by a desire to make “a stronger, more versatile company that was well positioned to take advantage of the travel market when it returns.”
“The pandemic has brought a lot of change to the travel industry and it has caused a lot of agency owners to look at their business model and their operations and question where they want to be going forward,” she says. “There are opportunities for acquisition and growth right now that would never have been possible during ‘normal’ times. If you are bold enough to believe in the future of our industry and have faith that we are relevant and will be in great demand when travel returns, then it is an ideal time to invest in your travel business and invest in growth through acquisition.”
Travelweek also connected with Lauren Harris, Manager – Leisure Sales and Marketing, Sportscorp Travel & Charrisma Travel Leisure,
Harris’ family opened her Barrie, ON travel agency in 1982, making Harris a third-generation owner. She and and Shawn Ashton, President, Sportscorp Travel, say their agencies have always been focused on growth and improvements to business wherever they can be made “and this agreement was a result of that drive.”
Harris says she wasn’t searching for buyers when Charrisma was acquired by Sportscorp: “We were not looking to sell.”
The collaboration was a perfect match, since the Bolton, ON Sportscorp is more corporate and groups-centric, while Charrisma is leisure-centric. “Combining our operations in this acquisition allows our team to fully round out the customer experience fully becoming a one-stop shop for travellers and travel managers alike. We each filled voids in business the other had making this an ideal acquisition,” said Harris and Ashton.
To read the full article check out the April 29 issue of Travelweek here.