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How A French Travel Group Is Building Its Active Outdoor Holiday Business

Manufacturing acquisitions have been a key feature of business in the outdoor recreation sector recently. Sector acquisition activity is now embracing active holiday operators. In 2017, the France-based tailor-made and adventure travel group Voyageurs du Monde (VdM) acquired UK-based, tailor-made holiday company Original Travel and KE Adventure Travel (KE), one of the world’s leading independent adventure travel specialists. VdM puts together journeys for around 200,000 customers each year and employs 1,200 people worldwide. It has operations in Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and the UK and is aiming to enter the United States, as well as considering other countries.

Set up by a couple of climbing adventure travelers in the early 80s, it’s now almost 35 years since Karakoram Experience (as it was known then) ran its first commercial trek into Pakistan’s Karakoram Mountains. Expanding the range of holidays geographically and adding mountain bike tours led to the evolution into KE Adventure Travel. The team’s experience in organizing small group holidays to over 90 countries in the world has put them in a great position for identifying adventure travel trends for 2019.

By leveraging the expertise of VdM in France in adventure travel, with its main brands (Allibert Trekking, Nomade Aventure and Terres d’Aventure), the development should allow KE  to expand its offer in several countries. KE will also accelerate international growth with English-speaking customers (American, Canadian, Australian and New-Zealander). Employing 27 people, KE had a turnover in 2016 of £7.9 million.

KE has now acquired 100% of the share capital of operator Mickledore Travel from founders Rick and Sonja Cooper. Founded in 2004, the company offers quality self-guided walking holidays and cycling tours in the UK for individuals, families and groups, with revenues of £2.68 million in 2018. It has a clear policy on the promotion of environmental conservation, energy and sustainable tourism, particularly regarding the interests of local communities in rural economies. Like KE, the company is based in Keswick in the English Lake District and now has 12 employees. KE’s CEO Ashley Toft commented, “Mickledore’s focus on the UK as a destination fills a gap in KE’s product range, and their expertise in operating self-guided holidays comes at a perfect time as KE launches its first range of self-guided walking and cycling holidays in Europe.’’

This continues the strategy of the VdM group to grow and develop in the UK and other English-speaking markets. In 2017, the group had a global turnover of €426.9 million; an increase of 12.5% on the previous year. On a like-for-like basis, mainly stripping out acquisitions in the UK in 2017, revenue growth was 6.1%. Foreign customers will now represent close to 20% of the company turnover. Since January 1, 2018, all the group’s brands have offset 100% of the CO2 emissions generated by the air and land transport associated with each tour.