Grand Circle Travel Sells to Private Equity Firm

December 20, 2007
In what's rapidly becoming a new trend in cruise line ownership, Boston-based Grand Circle Travel (GCT), which operates river cruises as well as land tours, has been acquired by a private equity firm. New York-based Court Square Capital Partners has signed a letter of intent to buy the family-owned GCT. The actual sale, if all goes as planned, is expected to go through in February.

Interestingly, rumors had been flying around for the past few months about GCT's sale to a private equity firm – but most predicted the travel and cruise company would become another notch in the already-mighty belt of Apollo Management L.P. That company, which already owns Oceania Cruises along with 50 percent of Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), made headlines last week with the announcement that it would also acquire Regent Seven Seas Cruises, one of the industry's leading luxury lines.

Court Square Capital Partners and GCT have not disclosed a purchase price. Alan E. Lewis, chairman and chief executive officer of GCT, will step down as part of the agreement though the family will retain 30 percent ownership. It is planned that Rakesh Gangwal will take over the CEO reins; he was formerly chief executive officer of Worldspan, which is a company in the Court Square portfolio. He also served with US Airways Group, Air France and United Airlines.

Grand Circle Travel started out in 1958 as a travel offshoot of AARP (American Association of Retired People). Its focus since then has been on offering trips, both exotic and mainstream, to an over-50s traveler. The company was acquired in 1985 by Alan Lewis, along with his wife Harriet, and they built on the original premise, expanding and developing new offerings.

In the mid-1990's the company made a major commitment to European river cruising. Though it started out by chartering other lines' ships, it has since designed and built its own ships and operates cruises to Europe, Russia, the Mediterranean and Egypt.

At this point there's no information, beyond changes in leadership, on the impact of the acquisition on GCT's 2008 cruise calendar but we'll keep you posted.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief