Former Pizza Express chairman buys Neilson Active Holidays

Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners investment vehicle has paid £9.15m for Neilson, which offers sailing, skiing and beach trips

Former Pizza Express chairman Luke Johnson has made his second foray into the travel industry in three months with the acquisition of Neilson Active Holidays.

Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners investment vehicle has paid £9.15m to buy Neilson, which offers sailing, skiing and beach trips to 90,000 holidaymakers a year, from tour operator Thomas Cook. Johnson said he expected a boom in active holidays, alongside a post-crunch recovery in skiing trips, as expensive vacations regain their popularity.

Established in 1978, Neilson generated revenues of £70m last year. It operates nine BeachClubs in Greece and Turkey, offering activities such as windsurfing, water skiing and tennis, as well as ski chalets in European resorts and also owns and operates 119 cruising yachts. The existing management team of Pete and Pip Tyler will stay with the business, Johnson said: “The active holiday sector is growing and ski volumes are set to recover. We believe the business will prosper with access to capital as an independent tour operator.”

The acquisition of Neilson follows Risk’s investment of about £20m in August in about two-thirds of the shares in, an online holiday website. That deal was Johnson’s first investment in the travel market, which the entrepreneur believes to be headed for recovery alongside the wider economy. “Big ticket items suffer disproportionately when times are tough but get a bigger boost when people feel better off,” he said. Johnson said there were no more travel acquisitions planned in the short term but Risk would look closely at any opportunities that arose in the hospitality sector.

Risk Capital traditionally focuses on restaurants, with stakes in a suite of eateries including Red Hot World Buffet, a Nottingham-based restaurant chain, Patisserie Valerie and Gail’s bakeries.

Harriet Green, chief executive of Thomas Cook Group, said the sale of Neilson was part of a continuing reorganisation of the business, which she expects to raise up to £150m. She is overseeing a turnaround at the 172-year-old Thomas Cook, which was saved from extinction by an emergency bailout in 2011. Green, who has dragged the business back into a profit since joining in 2012, said: “Building on our recent disposals (this deal) will allow us to focus on those key brands, propositions and products that will deliver our strategy for profitable growth.”

The holiday specialist, which is set to release its full-year results on Thursday, has also recently sold off the majority of its stake in NATS, the national air traffic control service, for £38m and its corporate foreign exchange business for £4.5m. The company is expected to deliver a full-year profit in line with market expectations, despite admitting to a slow start to winter travel sales in September. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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