ECI packs up Kirker investment

ECI Partners, the UK mid-market house, has sold its 75% stake in Kirker Travel, a British travel operator, to Kuoni, a premium travel specialist.

The deal size was not disclosed for the 20 year old company but reports suggest it was sold for somewhere between €37m and €45m.

Kirker was founded in 1986 by Christopher and Angy Kirker who decided to retire in 2002, which led to a €22.4m institutional BIMBO. ECI backed the transaction and created a team of travel industry experts to work alongside the existing management team. The firm brought in John MacNeill as managing director, Simon Vardigans as financial director and Ron Haylock as chairman.

Chris Watt of ECI said: “Kirker is a strong company with a leading brand, which has successfully developed and grown in a difficult industry environment – a testimony to the skill and drive of the management team. ECI took a bold decision in late 2002 to back Kirker in the face of the then impending conflict in Iraq and this has proven to have been a sound decision. Our confidence was based on our familiarity with the dynamics of the sector from past experience and, in particular, an appreciation of the long term resilience of well positioned travel businesses notwithstanding the short term impact of geopolitical events.”

Under ECI’s watch Kirker has extended its short-haul destinations to new cities and has introduced rural destinations in Western and Eastern Europe. The business has also moved into medium and long haul flights.

ECI has a track record in the travel, leisure and hospitality sector. In 2003 it sold Hoseasons, a self-catering holiday provider to HgCapital, and in 1999 it sold sailing holidays specialist Sunsail to First Choice.