Business News

Come fly with me

After a small acquisition in France, Uvet American Express is thinking big and examining an offer on Bluvacanze. It hopes to become number one in Italy

Come fly with me

This is Italy Team

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He completed an acquisition in France right in the middle of the battles for Parmalat and Edison. We'll be hearing more about Luca Patanè, 50, chairman of Uvet American Express, and his group, which has been in business for 60 years in the travel sector (with a turnover of 1.65 billion euro, 900 agencies and a staff of 350), in the coming months. For good reason: in the next few weeks some crucial maneuvers will take place, and the outcome will change the aspect of the entire tour business in Italy.

Alpitour, which is being auctioned off by the Agnelli family, is not the only tasty morsel on the table. Foreign operators and important Italian groups in the sector also have their eye on Bluvacanze, which owns the brands Cisalpina Tours and Going. This is the prey that interests the Uvet group. Patanè makes no secret of it. «Right now we have a market share of 10-12% in Italy and we want to reach 15-20% in the next year. To do that we have to grow fast and the quickest way to do it is through acquisitions» he tells Panorama Economy.

 

The Milan-based tour operator will have to compete with a rival that has been very active on the market in recent months, I Grandi Viaggi, which is also planning to bid on Alpitour. Both groups have allegedly had access to the accounts and business structure of the companies controlled by Blu Holding. «Bluvacanze has a different nature from our company, and a bulkier structure» says Patanè. «We are considering the acquisition, however». There is time until the end of April, when the offers must be presented. In the meantime, Uvet has expanded its network through the acquisition of Network Italia, 100 agencies, and is negotiating with two other companies with a potential of 3-400 agencies (the Piedmont-based Travel Company appears to be one possibility).

But Patanè is not thinking only of the Italian market. To grow, he needs to expand across the border. His goal is ambitious: to build a leading network in Europe in the sector of business travel for SME. The first step is his conquest at the end of March of 64% of Avexia Voyages, a Paris-based company specialized in the business travel sector (5,000 clients), with a capital increase of 1.2 million euro. But that is not all. He has his sights on countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, that will flank his Romanian division (Uvet Romania), inaugurated seven years ago, and will strengthen his position in Europe, limited at the present time to France and Switzerland. «These markets are ready by now for our type of offering, and have significant growth rates» explains Patanè, who is generous with optimistic forecasts: 4-5% in France, 12% in Italy and 18-20% in Eastern Europe.

Then there is the web, which is now one of the key sectors and has to work alongside the offline offerings: «In the next few years it will become even more important and will need further investment, but I continue to believe in the compatibility of the two channels» he adds.

The group started its steady rise many years ago. Back in the Fifties, Francesco Patanè, Luca's father, decided to go into business for himself, in Milan, after working as a clerk in a travel agency in Bergamo. That was how Uvet Viaggi Turismo got its start, as a small family-operated shop selling only train tickets. The business was a huge success, however, as this was the beginning of Italy's economic boom, and the company targeted its services on the business sector, quickly becoming a leading name in business travel. The company was soon able to open three more branches and become a joint stock company. In 1988 Francesco passed away and his children, Francesca and Luca, took charge and continued expanding, in the sign of innovation: in 1995 they created one of the largest independent business travel networks, First Business Travel International; three years later, it was a network with 250 agencies specialized in business travel; and in 1999 one of the first web portals in the sector, FreeTravel.it.

The turning point came in 2002, which Uvet entered a joint venture with American Express, one of the largest suppliers in the world of travel services for business, which owns 35% of the new holding company, renamed Uvet American Express. A year later the company launched BizTravel.it, self-booking for the Italian market and, in 2006,  Dynamics Travel, a website for the business clientele accessible also via mobile. Three years ago, the company made a decisive acquisition: Itn Travel Network, which with its 500 agencies brought the group's network to 800. With Bluvacanze, Patanè could double his network and add tourism to his business travel empire.

 

 

Massimo Morici

 

 

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