Private Equity: Huge Return Potential

Norwegian Getaway

Transparency is not a word that comes to mind when trying to track cruise industry investments by private equity firms. With few exceptions, they clam up. Perhaps it is because their investments did not turn out, or more likely, that they made out like bandits.

Apollo Global Management may be on its way to tripling its investment in Prestige and Norwegian Cruise Line since 2007 and 2008. From investments of about $2.5 billion, Apollo has generated returns of about $7 billion, including its remaining shareholding in NCLH. While company executives would not go on record discussing the return, they confirmed through a spokesperson that $7 billion was a “reasonable estimate.”

“We have had a great run with Norwegian; we have been very happy to be invested and support the management team,” said Paul Hackwell, a partner at TPG, which took 25 percent of Apollo’s investment or a 12.5 percent stake in Norwegian in 2008.

According to Per Bjornsen, director V.Ships Leisure, which has consulted equity firms on their cruise investments and inspected ships, there are still many opportunities in the industry. In particular in the expedition cruise market and for new entrants. “

According to sources, private equity firms typically have a five to seven year window to build up a company before selling or taking it public, returning profits to its investors.

Bridgepoint held ownership of Ponant Cruises for only three years, however, before selling to Artemis. Bridgepoint claimed it doubled sales and tripled profits by increasing and upgrading the fleet, geographical expansion of sales and marketing, and the acquisition of Travel Dynamics as a sales distribution channel in North America.

Last year Capitol Acquisition merged with Lindblad Expeditions in a deal valued at approximately $439 million, giving Capitol 50 percent ownership. The transaction also effectively took Lindblad public on the NASDAQ.

Since Capitol came aboard, Lindblad has acquired another vessel for $18 million, signed a $94.8 million contract for two newbuilds for coastal cruises and spent approximately $20 million acquiring Natural Habitat, an adventure travel and ecotourism company based in Colorado. Said Chairman Mark Ein:“I don’t expect Habitat to be our last acquisition,” he said. “We have the resources to do much more. I think we have just scratched the surface. We will look at buying like-minded companies that will fit.”

Investing in Hurtigruten, Jon Rosen, a partner in TDR Capital, said that his firm saw opportunities on several levels. “We are believers in the adventure travel trend whereby people look for more unique experiences and more cultural content as well as being active in their free time. We think that is a growing space,” he said. “And we are believers more specifically in the sub-1,000 passenger category of ships. It may not be ultra-luxury, but cater to people looking for a more specialized experience than they will get on the larger, what I would call, white ships.

So far, TDR has provided the capital to acquire and rebuild the Spitsbergen, which entered service this summer, and to begin a refit program of the existing fleet. In addition, Hurtigruten has ordered four new ships.

More recently Madrid-based Springwater Capital acquired a 51 percent share in Pullmantur Cruises from Royal Caribbean, which will retain 49 percent and own the ships that will be leased to the joint venture.

On a potentially bigger scale is Bain Capital’s investment in start-up brand Virgin Cruises with the first of three 2,800-passenger ships slated to enter service in 2020.

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2016

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