Spaniards let Neckermann suffocate
The Spanish travel group Wamos is pulling its hands off its Belgian daughter Neckermann. The faltering travel agency chain is looking for a new buyer.
Neckermann’s future remains uncertain. The drifting travel agency chain is asking the Nivelles court today on Friday to initiate a ‘transfer under judicial authority’ via the Continuity of Enterprises Act. A legal officer will then have four months to find an acquirer. During that period Neckermann is protected against bankruptcy.
The Belgian management takes the step after it became clear that the Spanish owner Wamos is dropping his Belgian subsidiary Neckermann. “Wamos does not want to invest money in Belgium, because it wants to protect its business in Spain,” says Neckermann CEO Laurent Allardin.
Wamos does not want to invest money in Belgium because it wants to protect its business in Spain.
Swiss private equity group Springwater Capital, which owns 81 percent of Spanish tourism group Wamos, fished Neckermann out of the bankruptcy of British travel group Thomas Cook in 2019. According to an informed source, the venture capital fund of the controversial businessman Martin Gruschka paid barely 750,000 euros for the Belgian branch.
In the absence of income, Neckermann filed for protection against his creditors in October. The Spanish owner Wamos then promised to pump 3.5 million euros of fresh money into his Belgian daughter. A tranche of 1 million euros was planned for the beginning of February, but that money never arrived. Wamos himself is in financial difficulties and is waiting for support from the Spanish state. In addition, Springwater Capital, which has bought several tourism companies dirt cheaply in recent years, concluded that its exposure to the risky travel industry is too great. That is why the private equity group already sold its refurbished Spanish cruise subsidiary Pullmantur this summer.
The pressure on Neckermann increased even more after a remarkable action by Test Achats. The consumer organization reported this week that Neckermann could be declared bankrupt on Monday, February 22, if it did not find the financial means to continue its activities by then. Travelers with a voucher issued for a canceled trip after June 19, 2020 were in danger of losing their money because they were not insured. Test Purchase advised those involved to quickly convert their voucher into a real booking.
Although Neckermann denies that there was a deadline on February 22, the advice led to chaos at the company, which is keeping all travel agencies closed. ‘Our telephone line broke down, we received an email every minute’, Allardin complains. “We want to reassure everyone: the vouchers remain valid.”
Neckermann now hopes to find a new majority shareholder soon. The Belgian management says it is in talks with an investment fund in the Benelux. Allardin does not want to give a name, but it is probably Futura Capital. That Luxembourg fund, which specializes in patching up Walloon companies, already made an offer for Neckermann in October, De Tijd learned. But the fund of the Belgian businessman Pascal Leurquin, who breathed new life into the Tintin printing company Casterman but died of the corona virus last year, was then vetoed by Springwater Capital.
The new owner faces a difficult task at Neckermann. With 50 travel agents and 150 employees, the company faces high costs. Investments in a new digital booking platform are needed. Moreover, the travel sector remains very uncertain for the time being. “The bookings are on hold,” Allardin admits. ‘Only trips with vouchers are ordered for the summer. People are waiting. ‘
Still, the CEO does not want to call the search an act of desperation. “The private equity player is very interested,” he says optimistically. ‘He absolutely wants to invest in the company. I am convinced that we will quickly find a buyer and that Neckermann can make a new start. ‘
- Founded: 1979.
- After Thomas Cook went bankrupt in 2019, it was acquired by Swiss private equity group Springwater Capital, which owns 81 percent of Spanish tourism group Wamos.
- Employees: 150.
- Travel agents: 50.
- CEO: Laurent Allardin.