London-based global private equity firm 3i Group plc (LON:III) has acquired a majority stake in bespoke travel agent Audley Travel from Equistone Partners for £159 million.

Founded in 1945, 3i is a leading international investment manager focused on mid-market private equity, infrastructure and debt management across Europe, Asia and North America. With nine offices across Europe, the US and Asia, 3i’s international presence and extensive network is highly complementary to Audley’s growth opportunities. 3i has a market capitalization of $4.42 billion.

This transaction is 3i’s second investment in the UK in 2015, following the investment in Aspen Pumps in February. 3i will support the team to expand the business’ UK presence, and use its international network to realize management’s ambitions for the company in North America and help Audley expand its operations into new geographies.

Founded in 1996, Audley is the leading provider of tailor-made experiential travel to over 80 destination countries across six continents. Serving clients predominantly in the UK and US markets, Audley is renowned for its superior service and destination expertise delivered by its 250 country specialists. The business benefits from high levels of loyalty with a large number of repeat customers and referrals. In 2015 the business is forecast to deliver revenues of £165m, up 20% compared to prior year.

With offices in London and Witney, Oxfordshire, Audley is the market leader in tailor-made travel in the UK. In 2014 the business expanded into the US as a new source market, with the opening of an office in Boston which has grown rapidly and is already generating over 10% of total revenues. 3i is backing the existing management team, led by Ian Simkins, CEO and Richard Prosser as Chairman.

“Audley is an excellent fit for our investment strategy of backing mid market businesses to grow internationally,” commented 3i Director, Tom Salmon. “It is a market leading business which delivers outstanding service to its clients and which is capitalising on the growing demand in both the UK and the US for high quality, genuinely tailored experiential travel. We look forward to working with Ian, Richard and the rest of the team to continue grow the business in both its existing and new markets.”

“We are delighted to be partnering with 3i which has enabled our management team to invest further into the business,” said Ian Simkins, CEO of Audley Travel. “3i has a longstanding track record of supporting people based businesses and their international mindset and footprint is highly attractive to us as a management team. We look forward to working with the 3i team as we pursue our growth ambitions by building upon the success we’ve achieved over the last three years with the support and backing of Equistone.”

3i’s advisers on the transaction were Baird (corporate finance), Ropes & Gray (legal), Deloitte (financial and tax due diligence), Parthenon and Spark Optimus (commercial due diligence), Arthur J Gallagher (insurance) and White Hart Associates (regulatory).

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