Dealmakers: A strong direction of travel

By Ged Henderson

05 Oct 2023

Pete Slater CMAC Group

As a business built on getting people from one place to another it’s no surprise that CMAC has mapped out its own business journey with a clear view of where it is heading.

The company has made its name as an expert in ground travel solutions, including managing alternative transport and accommodation for airlines affected by disruption such as severe weather, strike action, national disasters and technical and operational problems.

Since 2007 it has evolved from that reliable and trusted business continuity solutions provider, based in Accrington, to a thriving pan-sector organisation with established European services.

Today it has offices in the UK, Spain, Greece, Portugal and The Netherlands and transports some three million travellers annually.

The CMAC Group has a £150m turnover and a 350-strong workforce, with 40 per cent of its business based outside the UK. A very active buy and build strategy has played a key role in its development alongside organic growth.

Over the past 12 months the deals have come thick and fast. The latest, in July this year, saw CMAC buy Netherlands-based Airline Services & Accommodation Partner (A.S. & A.P) for an undisclosed sum.

This newest addition to the CMAC Group supports more than 40 airline partners across three Netherlands airports, including the country’s main international airport, Schiphol. Its core service is re-accommodating disrupted passengers and crew, booking more than 25,000 room nights each year.

June saw CMAC’s purchase of a controlling stake in online travel quotes website Coach Hire Comparison. Offering prices from around 300 minibus and coach operators across the UK, its website attracts more than 12,000 business and consumer users each month. Prior to that, in September last year CMAC sealed the deal to purchase Suntransfers, one of Europe’s largest airport transfer companies, based in Barcelona.

The acquisition, again for an undisclosed price, was designed to further bolster CMAC’s supply chain and provide immediate coverage to its existing clients across 23,000 destinations.

Suntransfers offers travel solutions across more than 750 airports and travel gateways worldwide.

That same month it also completed the acquisition of Portuguese-based travel firm Here & Dare, which operates across the Iberian country, including Madeira and the Azores. The Here & Dare team is available 24/7 to support clients with planned managed ground travel and accommodation solutions, destination management and emergencies.

CMAC began its expansion into Europe in 2018 with the launch of an operation in Greece, before acquiring Aircinks Solutions, a specialist in supporting airlines across its native Spain as well as Portugal and Morocco.

As well as buying businesses the group has entered into “strategic partnerships.” They include one announced earlier this year with Checkedsafe, a leading compliance platform for many sectors including, large fleets, HGVs, car rental, as well as bus, coach and taxi.

The Burnley based company’s award-winning vehicle compliance system has revolutionised the way drivers, and businesses, carry out vehicle safety checks. Both businesses speak of opportunities for growth and diversification.

CMAC Group’s chief executive Peter Slater explains the thinking behind the buy and build strategy. He says: “All our acquisitions, with one exception, have been profitable businesses with good people running them who know what they are doing.

“We’ve not only been interested in the businesses, we have been interested in the people as well. If we can add good quality people to our network that is as big an attraction to me as any profit that company might make.”

It means that most of the acquired operations have their original management teams in place in some cases the founders of the business. Will Kanon, managing director of A.S. & A.P, is looking forward to working with the CMAC team to grow the business that he founded further

He says: “This move represents an exciting opportunity for AS&AP to expand its reach and capabilities and drive further value for clients and hotel partners, many of whom I’ve worked with for over 14 years. I believe that the combined strengths of our two companies will create a powerful force in the market.”

Through acquisitions like these CMAC has worked to establish a presence in strategic European locations, harnessing local expertise for the benefit of its customer base. Its Barcelona operation has 83 staff. Peter says: “We are very much a European business now.”

As part of its deal making activities the group has also adopted a strategy that  looks to maximise its chances of having a sustainable business.

Peter describes the approach as one of “protection” and says: “Having a balanced portfolio of businesses increases our chance of profits and effectively reduces the risk of losses.

“Usually, if one channel within the business is suffering due to external factors outside of our control - for example, weather related disruption could be lower than usual - we see a spike elsewhere.”

He adds: “The acquisition has to be related back to the core in some way.”

Another increasingly important part of the strategy is looking at how the various arms of the business can interact and open up opportunities for each other through collaboration. Joining up the dots and seeing that bigger picture.”

Peter says: “We are seeing the benefit of these acquisitions in terms of the collaboration. And we are using our infrastructure to be able to support and grow the businesses.”

The group remains on the lookout for acquisitions that fit its criteria and has eyes on expanding further across Europe and into the Middle East. Peter adds: “We are still growing the company organically as well as through acquisitions.”

He says it is important to take a strategic and measured view when it comes to selecting potential targets as part of a buy and build strategy.

And he adds: “If you aren’t clever with your selections you could end up going round in circles and not achieving anything. Don’t just buy because you like buying.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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