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Super Break founder in talks to resurrect beleaguered brand

20 August 2019 by

Gordon Miller hopes to inspire confidence in ‘stripped-down version' of the company with a fully bonded, hotel-only offer. Amie Keeley reports

The founder of collapsed short break operator Super Break is hoping to resurrect the brand.

Gordon Miller, who set up the business with a colleague in 1983, is seeking to relaunch a "stripped-down" Super Break that would sell fully bonded hotel-only bookings.

Super Break ceased trading on 1 August after parent company the Malvern Group failed to find investment or a buyer. It collapsed with 400 customers overseas and 20,000 forward bookings affecting 53,000 customers.

Miller said: "There is an opportunity in the trade, domestic market. Everyone I talk to agrees. But I am a bit worried about the damage to the reputation. Will [travel] agents support a new Super Break if we bond everything?"

Miller acknowledged agents and operators had been hurt by the failure. "The trade seemed to be very confused about what was bonded and shocked that hotel-only was not," he said. "Agents and hotels have lost money on this and I have the greatest sympathy."

Looking ahead to a potential buyout, he said: "If we said we are [fully] bonded, that's a good sentiment to express to the trade."

Miller said he was in talks with administrators KPMG and had had discussions with Malvern Group staff and the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta).

In the 1980s, Miller and his colleague Christopher Dunn bought British Transport Hotels for £1 from British Rail, when it was being privatised. Initially featuring just 32 hotels, they added five Rank Group properties and renamed the business Superbreak. They acquired Golden Rail in 1987 and grew its portfolio to 1,000 hotels.

Miller and Dunn sold the business in a Barclays-backed management buyout to directors Nick Cust, Mark Wray and Stuart Hope in 1990. The pair retained a stake in the business and Miller was brought back by Barclays in 1993 to prepare Superbreak for a second sale, this time to Eurocamp in 1994.

Miller said he was "shocked and saddened" when he heard this month that Super Break – which adopted its two-word style in 2014 – had collapsed.

It was gnawing away at me so I contacted the administrators," he said. "I'm interested in a stripped-down version of Super Break – so nothing overseas, because we can't compete and the margins aren't high enough. This would be back to basics. A controlled operation, well-financed, UK-only and sold through the trade."

If a deal goes ahead, Miller would run the business from York and recruit the former "highly skilled" call centre staff.

Tracey Pye, joint administrator at KPMG, said: "We are continuing to engage with interested parties to purchase the business and assets of the companies. To date, we have received significant interest."

Administrators untangle payments issues

Tracey Pye and David Costley-Wood from KPMG Restructuring were appointed joint administrators to booking websites LateRooms, Super Break and Malvern Travel Technology on 2 August.

Administrators had said it was "anticipated" that reservations through LateRooms would be secure as payments had been taken by hotels either in advance (for non-refundable reservations) or at the property. LateRooms did not take any payment for bookings itself.

However, the administrators said all hotel-only bookings made via Super Break had been cancelled and would not be covered by the Abta financial protection scheme.

LateRooms and Super Break, owned by the Malvern Group, had recently come under significant cash flow pressure following news that one of the group's principal shareholders had defaulted on its debt repayments and would not be able to support the business in the short term. The businesses ceased operations a day before the appointment of the joint administrators.

There were understood to be around 23,000 LateRooms bookings affected and 19,000 through Super Break.

Hotels accused of ‘profiteering' from rebooking rates

By Benjamin Coren and Katherine Price

Hotel brands including Hilton are honouring rates offered by Super Break following accusations of "profiteering".

Travel agents said some hotels attempted to profit from the collapse of the domestic specialist by cancelling reservations and charging increased rates on rebookings.

Graeme Brett, owner of Westoe Travel in South Shields, said: "After Hilton tried to charge me £985 to rebook a Super Break customer who had paid £435 and discovering that many other agents had encountered similar issues with the Hilton group, I contacted Abta member services. I asked them to stop using Hilton hotels for travel events and member meetings in protest when all of the other large chains were honouring prices."

Action from the trade resulted in some properties, including one Hilton hotel, changing its stance, as well as bringing to light those who had been honouring the rates.

Hotels under Best Western, InterContinental Hotels Group, Jurys Inn and Accor brands have been praised for honouring the original rates.

"We think it's really important to act in good faith for the customers and agents affected," said Andy Besent, head of sales for Jurys Inn and Leonardo Hotels UK and Ireland. "Jurys Inn and Leonardo Hotels is happy to confirm that we can honour the rates offered by Super Break prior to the brand's collapse for any existing bookings."

Brett said Abta told him that following its conversation with senior staff at the hotel, Hilton vowed to honour Super Break rates.

A spokesperson for marketing consortium Best Western hotels said that, as properties are independently owned and managed, the decision is "entirely at the discretion of those individual management teams". However, it has been encouraging hotels to honour bookings.

An Abta spokesman said: "We regularly work closely with willing partners to accommodate good outcomes for consumers where possible and in this case we were delighted by Hilton's response."

A Hilton spokesperson said: "Hilton is honouring all bookings made via Super Break, which will be charged at the pre-agreed rate."

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