This investment in Intrepid caps intense interest from private equity investors in the multi-day tour operator sector over the last few years, and the expected post-pandemic travel boom will likely see many more such deals happen.
One of the largest adventure tour operators, Intrepid Travel, has secured a minority but substantial investment from French-based family investment company Genairgy, owned by Julien Leclercq, a board member and shareholder of Decathlon, one of the largest sports retailers globally.
This investment follows many years of Intrepid exploring strategic options for further growth for the company, including diligence with many private equity firms along the way. Intrepid has pioneered small-group experiential adventure travel in many ways through the three decades of its existence.
A spokesperson for Intrepid Travel, based in Australia, told Skift the equity investment will give Genairgy a stake of less than one third of Intrepid once the deal closes in April. Co-founders Darrell Wade and Geoff Manchester each individually own a larger stake than Genairgy’s and together maintain majority control of the company.
James Thornton said he will stay on as CEO.
Genairgy owner Julien Leclercq gets a seat on the Intrepid board, which otherwise is unchanged.
The deal occurs as private money begins to flow into the tour operator sector, which has been reeling. In addition to Genairgy investing in Intrepid Travel, private equity firm Certares seeded adventure travel company G Adventure with an unspecified fund for growth capital, and also invested also invested $47.6 million into a French travel agency with several adventure travel brands.
In 2019, Intrepid said it had earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of $23 million, a 56 percent year-over-year jump in profits. The B Corp certified company also said it had revenues of $488 million in 2019.
Still, Intrepid faced challenges even before the pandemic. Its Urban Adventures franchise business reportedly lost $1 million in 2019, and in November 2020 Intrepid shut down its franchise unit, angering operators.
In a confidential memo to Urban Adventures partners in November, the division’s acting managiing director, Klaudija Janzelj, that the Urban Adventures Group would be shuttered, and that its scaled down operations would be fully owned by Intrepid Travel under the brand name, Intrepid Urban Adventures.
In making the funding announcement Wednesday, Thornton noted that the company had to deliver 43,000 trip credits and $21 million in refunds in 2020.
He said the funding infusion from the family office would enable Intrepid to reopen “many” of its 21 destination management company offices around the world in anticipation of a summer travel recovery.
Thornton acknowledged that the future will bring, but said he was optimistic about the future.
Asked how the investment alters Intrepid’s strategy, a spokesperson said: “Intrepid’s 2025 Strategy of Growing with Purpose is unchanged as a result of the investment, but the partnership will open up opportunities for market expansion in Europe and Asia, as well as product development into more sporting and active experiences, and new distribution via Decathlon Experience of which Darrell Wade will join the Board.
Note: This story has been updated to provide more detail on the investment and commentary on how Intrepid Travel’s strategy might change.
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Photo credit: James Thorton, CEO, Intrepid Travel speaking to tour guides in India. Intrepid Travel