Nov 25, 2013

Risk Capital Partners backs Neilson, UK’s leading active holiday company

Risk Capital Partners, the private equity firm chaired by Luke Johnson, today announces that it has backed management to acquire Neilson Active Holidays Ltd from the Thomas Cook Group for an undisclosed sum. The transaction is expected to complete in early December. Reflecting Risk Capital Partners’ optimism for a recovering sector, this is the Company’s second deal this year in the travel industry.

Neilson delivers award-winning holidays – sailing, skiing and beach – to 90,000 customers a year and generated revenues of £70 million last year.  Established in 1978, Neilson sells its holidays direct to customers from its website and its own dedicated call centre based in Brighton Marina, as well as supporting the UK travel trade with sales via the ABTA travel agents network and specialist ski and sailing websites.

Active holidays have been one of the fastest growing leisure markets over the past ten years, with British holidaymakers keen to expand their holiday activities, whilst developing new skills in a social setting.  Neilson operates nine summer BeachClubs (five in Greece and four in Turkey).  The company also owns and operates 119 cruising yachts from a number of Mediterranean sailing bases.  Its winter destinations cover all the major ski resorts in Europe and North America, with an extensive chalet programme and a developing Club Hotel concept.

The existing Neilson management team of Pete and Pip Tyler are staying with the business, and will be joined by Executive Chairman Richard Bowden-Doyle and Finance Director David Taylor – both experienced travel industry executives.

Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners, commented: “We were attracted by the strength of the Neilson brand, demonstrated by the loyalty of its repeat customers, particularly for the summer BeachClub offer.  The active holiday sector is growing and ski volumes are set to recover.  We believe the business will prosper with access to capital as an independent tour operator.”

Michael Simmonds, who completed the deal on behalf of Risk Capital Partners, and who will join Johnson on the Board, said; “ ‘Relax as hard as you like’ is the perfect strapline for Neilson. Its fans consistently cite the quality of the staff, choice of activities and popular kids’ clubs as the reason they keep coming back.”

Pete Tyler, Managing Director of Neilson, added: “We have spent some time getting to know Risk Capital Partners and are excited they have decided to invest in this business.  Their financial strength, business acumen and historic results in the leisure sector will be of huge value to us and we look forward to their support in helping to grow the business”.

Neilson is the second travel investment for Risk Capital Partners this year, having previously supported the management buyout of, an online travel agent specialising in cruise which hosts the UK’s leading cruise forum and information source.  Simmonds commented: “The travel sector has experienced a tough few years, but with the advent of improving consumer confidence, we believe it is a good time to back specialist, differentiated operators.”