Candover and Bourne win €900m Parques Reunidos battle

Candover has teamed up with a trade player to win the hotly-contested auction for Europe’s largest theme park operator.

UK buyout firm Candover has linked up with a trade player to win the auction for Parques Reunidos, a European theme park group previously owned by rival Advent International.

Candover fought off Apax Partners and CVC Capital Partners in the final round of bidding to secure Parques Reunidos, which operates 22 amusement, animal and water parks in six different countries. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but banking sources said it was worth just over €900 million ($1.17 billion).

Candover won the auction after linking up with Bourne Leisure, the UK company behind the Haven and Butlins brands. Bourne, which Candover backed in 2000, has enjoyed strong growth in the domestic leisure market, and deal sources said some of the techniques used to grow the business were appealing to Parques Reunidos’ management. Bourne has taken a minority stake in the business, although the exact level of their involvement is still to be finalised.

Advent is set for a substantial return on its investment in Parques Reunidos, which it bought for €173 million in December 2003 – at the time the first public-to-private deal completed by a buyout firm in Spain. The company has since grown rapidly through organic growth and a number of acquisitions.

Candover also has ambitious plans for the business. The theme park industry in Europe remains highly fragmented, with a number of parks still privately owned, and Candover managing director Marek Gummienny said his firm wants to double the size of the group in the next few years. A source said there were a number of further acquisitions in the pipeline, both inside and outside Europe.

Chief executive Richard Golding and general manager Jose Diaz, who were hired in 2003 to run the company, will remain with the business, having re-invested in the buyout.

Buyout firms queued up to bid for Parques, which according to sources is highly cash-generative and has good operating margins, with earnings last year of about €75 million on revenues of around €190 million. However The Blackstone Group, which recently made a move into the sector with the acquisition of Legoland, was not involved in the auction.

Palamon Capital Partners  is another buyout firm with an interest in the sector. It holds Movie Park in Germany after selling six theme parks it bought under the Six Flags brand, and is also looking to benefit from further consolidation in the sector.