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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Big Bus Tours wants investors on board

Big Bus Tours has hired the US investment bank JP Morgan to find a suitor, with proceedings expected to start early next year. The deal could be valued close to $810 million, according to Reuters.
A passenger aboard a Big Bus Tours bus on the way to Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Jaime Puebla / The National
A passenger aboard a Big Bus Tours bus on the way to Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Jaime Puebla / The National

A city tour bus operator with a presence in the UAE is scouting for buyers as travel companies become attractive for private equity players.

Big Bus Tours has hired the US investment bank JP Morgan to find a suitor, with proceedings expected to start early next year. The deal could be valued close to US$810 million, according to Reuters.

The company was formed in 2011 with the merger of London-based The Big Bus Company (TBBC) and Les Cars Rouges from Paris. It had at the time more than 800 employees, 300 open-top buses and 2 million customers a year from at least 11 cities across the globe.

Abu Dhabi’s Al Fahim Group, which owns the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel in the capital, bought a 30 per cent stake in TBBC in 2007. Al Fahim Group has business interests in the automotive, hospitality and real estate sectors. No one from the company was available to comment on the sale.

The Maybury family, which founded TBBC with two buses in London in 1991, is also one of the stakeholders.

Big Bus Tours now operates in 16 cities across the world, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Muscat, and had 3 million people using it last year, according to the company. It entered Dubai in 2002 and Abu Dhabi seven years later. It also operates in Budapest, Istanbul and Shanghai.

The sightseeing business in Dubai is getting more competitive. This month, Emirates Group’s travel company dnata and its Spanish partner City Sightseeing Worldwide launched another hop-on, hop-off city tour. City Sightseeing’s two routes would combine 26 locations, including The Dubai Mall, Jumeirah Mosque, gold and spice souqs and Bastakiya. City Sightseeing started a Sharjah tour last year.

There have been some mergers and acquisitions in the travel business in the UAE, with dnata acquiring UK’s Stella Travel Services and Gold Medal Travel Group from Thomas Cook this year. In 2012, dnata entered into a joint venture with Travel Counsellors and acquired the British online travel agent Travel Republic in 2011.

Globally, private equity companies have shown a growing appetite for travel companies. The travel industry in Europe has made $3.6 billion in deals so far this year, higher than $1.1bn in the United States, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The French leisure resort chain Club Méditerranée this month agreed to a share sale to the Chinese conglomerate Fosun and AXA PE that would value the company at €839 million (Dh3.89bn).

London-based Oakley Capital last year sold its shares in Emesa, an online travel comparison and booking platform, to Amsterdam’s Cyrte Investments for €95m.

In a smaller deal, the European private equity companies Gimv and Iris Capital invested €15m in the French online travel agency Planetveo last year.

ssahoo@thenational.ae