Africa & Beyond completes MBO and plots steady trade growth

Specialist tour operator Africa & Beyond has completed a management buyout as part of a plan for the business to reach its “full potential”.

The buyout has resulted in sales director Jamie Taylor increasing his stake in the business. He is joined as a shareholder by Matt Purser, Ian Finlay and Stewart Lambert, of The Firebird Partnership.

The sale, made with the support of The Firebird Partnership, sees husband and wife founders Richard and Charlotte Howell hand over the reins of the business they set up in 2007. The former will stay on for six months in a consultancy role.

As part of the MBO, Purser, a director at Firebird, has become managing director of Africa & Beyond while Finlay, one of the founders of Firebird, is non-executive director.

The tailormade specialist, a member of The Specialist Travel Association (Aito), is now targeting “steady” trade sales growth. Agents already account for more than 95% of sales.

Purser hopes to double the number of sales agents to return staffing to pre-Covid levels and return the business to pre-pandemic passenger numbers of 1,000 within the next 12 months. It currently has three reservations staff within a team of seven in total, including management.

He said: “We don’t want to make wholesale changes because the business is running well and is successful but we want it to reach its full potential. We are looking for steady growth in the next 12 months.”

Growth will come from nurturing and developing relationships with current and new agent partners.

“We still want to work with our current agents and work with them more, and may be work with some new agents. It makes sense to harbour those relationships,” he said, adding: “We are reviewing all systems and processes to make sure we prepare the organisation for growth.

“We [shareholders] are in this for the long term; we want to get it right and we can do this through steady, organic growth.  I am hugely passionate about the team and the product.”

Taylor said: “It’s a privilege to be part of this huge opportunity for Africa & Beyond, and to stand on the cusp of a new period of growth. Africa & Beyond is a true specialist and hugely supported by the industry. I look forward to continuing this great relationship together with Firebird and the rest of the team. We wish Richard and Charlotte all the best.”

Richard, who called on the Firebird Partnership earlier this year to explore exit options and find new owners, said: “After more than 16 wonderful years at the helm of Africa & Beyond, Charlotte and I are ready for a new chapter – and delighted to see the company passed into such expert hands. We are deeply grateful to Firebird for their in-depth, comprehensive approach to the sale, and excited to watch what we’re sure will be a stellar trajectory for A&B from here.”

Africa & Beyond has offices in Manchester, York and Cape Town. It specialises in tailormade trips to Africa, the Indian Ocean Islands and the Middle East, with southern Africa its core destination.

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