lowcost travel group
1 year ago
 

LowcostHolidays exec owns stealthy stake in rival that bought failed agency’s digital assets

A director and shareholder at the Lowcost Travel Group didn’t disclose an affiliation with the recent buyer of the failed online travel agency’s digital assets.

Administrators Smith & Williamson were appointed to handle the affairs of the Lowcost Travel Group after it went bust in the middle of July this year, effectively stranding around 27,000 customers in their resorts and seeing a further 110,000 customers with pre-bookings missing out on or having to reorganise their summer trip.

LoveHolidays was recently named as the buyer of the digital assets (domain name, etc) of Lowcost Travel Group, giving it access to thousands of destination pages from the consumer-facing website LowcostHolidays and, more importantly, their highly optimised presence in search engines.

All of the original pages associated with LowcostHolidays now automatically go to a similar landing page on LoveHolidays (such as cities or beach destinations), whilst others simply head over to the “holidays” channel on the younger OTA.

It has since emerged that Lawrence Hunt, non-executive chairman (originally chief operating officer), has had a small shareholding in LoveHolidays’s parent Want2BThere for at least 18 months, including the period leading up to and since the demise of the Lowcost Travel Group.

Furthermore, Hunt was also part of the Lowcost Travel Group team alongside the administrators who were tasked with finding new homes for various parts of the business following its failure this summer.

lawrence hunt

Lawrence Hunt, during his time as CEO of SilverJet

LoveHolidays CEO, Al Francis, confirms that Hunt was working with the administrators as part of a process that saw him “contact multiple companies (including us) to notify what assets were up for sale”.

An official for Smith & Williamson says:

“In accordance with our standard practice, all potential purchasers were treated equally. All were signed up to non-disclosure agreements and five parties submitted an offer for the domain names – the asset was sold to the highest bidder (again, in accordance with our role, as administrators).”

“Our corporate finance team led the sale negotiations and they were driven only by one criterion in their efforts, i.e obtaining the best price. This is in accordance with our role as administrators, that being to try and get the best result for creditors.”

The identities of the four other companies bidding for the assets are unknown.

Smith & Williamson says its dealings with LoveHolidays were carried out directly with Francis, but despite Hunt’s role in contacting prospective buyers, his shareholder position with the company remained undisclosed to the administrators throughout.

The official says:

“We were not aware of any connection between Hunt and LoveHolidays.”

Hunt’s ownership of the shares is in the low range (less than 1%) and he has no official position on its board of directors.

An individual is not prohibited in law from owning shares in a rival company (although some businesses may frown upon such activity) – but it is standard and also considered good ethical practice in financial circles for a full disclosure of interests to be made under the circumstances outlined above.

Alongside the Lowcost Travel Group, Hunt has been involved with two other companies that have faced high-profile collapses: Dreamticket in 2001 and SilverJet in 2008.

He joined the Lowcost Travel Group within months of the failure of SilverJet to oversee the creation of the LowcostHolidays brand and bought his minority stake in Want2BThere, the parent company of competitor online travel agency, LoveHolidays, during its last round.

Want2BThere is the owner of the solitary share issued by LoveHolidays.

Hunt is one of a number of well-known industry names who have bought into Want2BThere in recent years.

According to a filing at Companies House in the UK in April 2016, these include director Dermot Blastland, the ex-First Choice MD; Irene Hays, wife of Hays Travel CEO, John, who relinquished his involvement in Want2BThere in 2015; Roger Allard, chairman of the All Leisure Group; John Wimbleton, ex-First Choice distribution boss; and David Scowsill, current president and CEO of the WTTC (World Travel and Tourism Council).

No other Lowcost Travel Group directors, apart from Hunt, are known to hold or are former-owners of shares in Want2BThere.

A number of managers at Lowcost Travel Group are now on the books at LoveHolidays, including Mark Nisbet (currently director of contracting) and Claire Trevis (currently aviation, sales and operations director), both of whom joined in July, and Mike Woodall (currently head of purchasing for mainland Spain and Portugal) from August.

Tnooz did not receive a response from Hunt regarding this story, nor was Smith & Williamson able to provide a means for obtaining comment from him.

Separately, in a general update last week from the administrators, a statement says:

“As with all formal insolvency appointments, the administrators have a statutory duty to investigate the behaviour of the directors prior to the failure of the business and to make a report (which remains strictly confidential in all cases) to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

“These investigations are ongoing and will take some months due to the complexity of the business.”

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.

 

Comments

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  1. Hisham Dia

    What’s more than an order from the high court of London and we still see these weird stories, what it takes for the government to interfere and sort out this mess, we are one of the suppliers waiting for any sign from the administrator or anybody to help us confronting the legal cases raised against us for owed money we never received from Lowcostholidays!

     
  2. Loulou

    Inbred British online travel industry.

     
 
 

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