All Aboard! ECI invests in rail tour company Amber Travel

ECI Partners LLP, the UK growth focused mid-market private equity firm, has taken a majority stake in premium rail travel company, Amber Travel.

The transaction values the business at over £50m and represents a successful exit for Primary Capital who invested in Amber in 2005.

With a turnover of £67m (year-ended September 30, 2012), York-based Amber Travel is the UK’s leading specialist, rail tour business, offering escorted group holidays to destinations around the world. The business is growing strongly with turnover growth of over 20% anticipated in 2013.

Established in 1980, the company now offers 300 different itineraries across 40 countries, ranging from Europe to Africa, North America, Asia, Russia and Australia. Last year, 50,000 customers went on an Amber rail holiday. The company’s strong focus on customer service is borne out by high levels of repeat business.

Amber caters for a growing demographic group of relatively affluent, mostly retired travellers who prioritise travel spend within their household budgets. The company operates through three brands:

  • Great Rail Journeys: the largest part of the business, Great Rail Journeys offers predominantly first class rail travel with accommodation in 4-5 star hotels.
  •  Treyn : a new brand launched by the business in January 2008 and focused on offering standard class rail travel in the UK and Continental Europe with accommodation in 3-4 star hotels
  • this business, launched in 2006 and catering for the independent traveller, draws on Amber’s rail and holiday capabilities to offer tailor-made travel

ECI’s investment in Amber continues a long line of successful transactions in the travel industry. Over the last few years, the firm has invested in CarTrawler, the online car rental aggregator, and Reed & Mackay, a corporate travel management services company, and successfully exited, the online hotels specialist.

Chris Watt, head of ECI’s Consumer team, who will sit on Amber’s board, brings a wealth of experience in the sector. Chris served as non-executive director for previous ECI travel portfolio companies, including Hoseseasons and Kirker. He currently serves on CarTrawler’s board.

 Amber Travel Executive Chairman Nick Cust said:

We’re delighted to welcome ECI Partners aboard Amber.  As a management team we are very excited about partnering with ECI, an organisation with a long and positive track record of past and current ownership of travel businesses.

Since becoming Chairman in January 2011, I have been very impressed by the quality, value and appeal of our holidays. This is reflected in more and more travel agents selling our packages – an area showing 35% growth this year – and ECI’s ownership will see us redoubling our efforts with the retail trade.

Chris Watt, Partner at ECI Partners, said:


This is a business with a highly differentiated proposition that appeals to the culturally interested traveller. Amber caters for an affluent, growing demographic, that wants to see the world. We are very excited about the prospects for continuing growth at the business, and we look forward to working with Nick and his team.

Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking’s Acquisition Finance team solely provided a package of senior debt to support the transaction.

Rob Lawrence, director, Acquisition Finance at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said:

Amber Travel’s differentiated and resilient business model, loyal customer base and experienced management team mean that it is well placed to continue growing in its niche travel markets.

The backing of experienced investor ECI Partners will only accelerate this growth. We are pleased to continue our support for the business and reinforce our strong relationship with ECI.

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