Swiss tour operator Tourasia has emerged as a substantial shareholder of Diethelm Travel Group (DTG) with its founder/managing director (MD) Stephan Roemer taking the driver’s seat at DTG as its CEO based in Bangkok, effective next week.
Lisa Fitzell, group MD of DTG, is on a garden leave till January and is no longer with the company.
The acquisition involves DTG buying into Tourasia’s Blue Horizons Travel & Tours Philippines and its DMC network All Asia Exclusive (AAE), and Tourasia acquiring shares in DTG. Details of the shareholding will not be revealed; however, TTG Asia understands Tourasia has substantial equity to put it in the driver’s seat of DTG.
Blue Horizons and AAE, which has offices in Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, will be merged into DTG, with only Blue Horizons retaining its name. DTG operates in Sri Lanka/the Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Singapore.
In a phone interview from Zurich, where Tourasia is based, Roemer, when asked about the reasons for the move, said: “We believe in the DMC business. We believe that if a DMC can provide real quality and added value, there’s a good chance it can be successful. Our own AAE and Blue Horizons make it their priority to deliver consistent quality, and are all profitable; we hope to have similar results at Diethelm, otherwise why would we buy?
“Another aspect is the market development over the last two to three years. Today, it’s difficult if you’re a small or medium-sized DMC – unless you are really niche. We believe this move makes absolute sense as it positions us now as a strong player with more than 500 staff in 13 countries and a combined turnover of US$90 million.”
Roemer added: “Thirdly, Tourasia and our subsidiaries in Germany and Poland bring substantial business to Asia. The move enables us to bring our business into the vertical chain.”
Asked who will take charge of Tourasia, which bills itself Switzerland’s largest tour operator specialising in travel to Asia, Roemer said: “Tourasia is perfectly organised with my MDs in Germany and Poland. I will stay on as MD of Switzerland, although I have a long-serving team who have been with me for more than 10 years, some 20 years, and are highly experienced. Tourasia has a lean structure, no big hierarchies. Every head of department has his own competencies.”
Tourasia did look at many companies, he said, when asked about speculation in the industry that DTG had been struggling for a while now. “We looked into many companies but we didn’t find any that complemented us the way Diethelm does. We’ve also been dealing with DTG and are familiar with them. We’ve done our due diligence and not only does Diethelm has a storied name (founded in 1957), its portfolio is very interesting and does not overlap with ours,” said Roemer.
Roemer stressed that his first priority is not cost-cutting but to quickly introduce his concept of quality. “It will be introduced quickly. There are already workshops within a week’s time,” he said.
Roemer has nearly four decades of experience with Asia. A few industry members TTG Asia spoke to believed he’s good news for Diethelm.
Said a competitor: “For Diethelm Travel, this is good since it will have an experienced tourism professional who knows Asia inside-out as their CEO…and who should be able to get the company back on track.”
Former DTG CEO, John Watson, said: ”I think this move is a clever strategic one and I am pleased to see it happen. I had the most wonderful time of my career working for Diethelm Travel and the Keller family, and feel sure that the synergies between DTG and Tourasia will pay dividends. Stephan Roemer understands the Asia tourism market very well from every angle and overall this is a smart move on both sides.
“Hopefully, the Diethelm ship will now sail out of the doldrums and make landfall in a more profitable place. The brand is still the strongest in its field and they are well placed to take advantage of the opportunities out there.”