Travelstart to buy Club Travel Group

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Travelstart CEO Stephan Ekbergh (left) and Club Travel MD Wally Gaynor.
Travelstart CEO Stephan Ekbergh (left) and Club Travel MD Wally Gaynor.

Online travel agency Travelstart has signed a deal with Thebe Tourism Groupto acquire its travel company, Club Travel Group.

Cape Town-based Club Travel was established in 1987 by Wally Gaynor, who serves as MD of the company. It was acquired by the Thebe Tourism Group in 2001, and has over 400 branded and non-branded franchises and a corporate travel division.

As part of the agreement, Thebe Tourism will sell its stake in the Club Travel Group to Travelstart. Thebe and Travelstart will jointly invest in and own Club Travel Corporate, a level one B-BBEE-rated division of Club Travel Group.

The acquisition will boost Travelstart’ s offering by adding Club Travel’s established complementary corporate and franchise divisions, creating a full-service African travel group.

Club Travel will continue as a standalone company within the Travelstart portfolio, according to Travelstart.

“Travelstart is strong in the consumer segment and we want to bring consumerisation to the corporate and government sectors, where Club Travel is an emerging star,” says Travelstart CEO Stephan Ekbergh.

“We love Club Travel because, like us, they have a long history in discount travel.”

Travelstart was founded in Sweden in 1999 and claims to have pioneered online travel in Scandinavia. In 2006, the company launched in South Africa and a decade later, it secured $40 million (R591 million) in funding from global technology investor Amadeus Capital Partners and mobile phone group MTN.

It does business across several African countries, with offices in Cape Town, Lagos, Cairo and Dubai.

In 2017, the online travel agency bought a majority stake in Cape Town-based SafariNow.com, as part of the company's strategy to continue its growth trajectory in Africa.

In November, Travelstart partnered with retailer Pick n Pay, to enable customers to pay for flights at Pick n Pay stores nationwide.

With the latest acquisition, Travelstart and Club Travel enter a co-operation which will enable the former to expand its business and reach new customers, and the latter to gain the expertise to deliver digital product innovation and remain competitive.

While Africa’s travel and tourism market is worth an estimated $194 billion, digital uptake among consumers is still in its growth phase, notes Travelstart.

“Travelstart shares a common mission, which is to make travel easier for customers. Our team is excited to partner with them to build an amazing long-term business over the next decade,” notes Wally Gaynor, Club Travel MD and founder, who will retain a board seat.

“The deal is a response to the changes in travel in Southern Africa as consumer and corporate travel markets increasingly favour technology-driven solutions,” notes Jerry Mabena, CEO of Thebe Tourism.

The closing of the deal is subject to the approval of the Competition Commission.

Travelstart competes with the likes of online travel company TravelGround Group, accommodation booking site Airbnb, Travel.co.za and the recently launched Travelcheck, which gives customers discounts on flights, hotels and activities by offering bundled rates.

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