Yesterday, Tzell Travel Group – a Travel Leaders company – signed an agreement to merge with Protravel International, Inc. pending government antitrust approval. Travel Agent reached out to Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben to find out how the deal was reached.
The whole process, he said, took more than a year. “We started talking about it in October, but I had a heart attack in November and that set us back a few months,” Liben said drily. “We picked up again in January of this year.”
The discussions, he added, were “friendly,” since there were benefits for everyone involved. “This will make Travel Leaders stronger,” he said. “Tzell is integral because of its profits and strengths, and now after this merger, it will be a more profitable and stronger component of the entity.” In a competitive marketplace, consolidation makes Travel Leaders better poised for the future, Liben added. In five or 10 years, he expects the company as a whole to be in a stronger position to deal with what’s ahead.
Earlier, Travel Leaders had reported that the merged operations would represent a combined annual sales volume of over $2.35 billion. Liben indicated that after the merger, Tzell and Protravel would continue operating “as is” with no plans to change the companies’ business models. Protravel founder Priscilla Alexander would continue serving as its president.
Snipers and Shotguns
In terms of acquiring businesses, Liben describes Travel Leaders as a sniper instead of a shotgun. “We pick our targets carefully. We acquired Nexion for a reason. We wanted the cream of the crop. We wanted Vacation.com because it had 4,500 agents and we wanted that kind of saturation in the market. We love Tzell and what it brings to the table. Protravel is a mirror image of Tzell, and we knew we’d love Priscilla’s Protravel.” As far as future mergers and acquisitions go, Liben was tight-lipped, but repeated that the company picks its targets carefully. “It won’t be in same mode as Protravel,” he said. “It might be different—maybe something in the newspaper or technology outlet,” he added with a chuckle. “You never know.”
“We’re very happy with this merger,” he emphasized. “It gives our agents a more secure future to support themselves. We could not have picked better partner [than Protravel], and we are thrilled with the outcome.”