Coronavirus: Shearings owner in race to avoid becoming crisis casualty

The owner of Shearings, the coach holidays provider for over-50s, is racing to avoid becoming the next corporate casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sky News has learnt that Specialist Leisure Group (SLG), which also owns the Bay Hotels chain, is in advanced talks with several potential buyers as it tries to avoid falling into administration.

If SLG is forced into insolvency, its collapse could put 2,600 jobs at risk.

The company, which traces its origins back to the establishment of the Happiways escorted tours operation in 1903, is expected to make a decision about its future as soon as Friday.

It is understood to be working with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the accountancy firm, on efforts to secure a future for the business.

One insider said that SLG and its controlling shareholder, the US-based private equity investor Lone Star Funds, were hopeful of finding a buyer imminently.

If a solvent sale proves impossible, a pre-pack administration may be another option, enabling parts of the business to emerge under another owner, they added.

PwC is likely to handle any insolvency process if such an outcome cannot be avoided.

The source said there had been several “credible” expressions of interest in acquiring SLG, raising hopes that the business can be salvaged.

It has also been exploring the possibility of utilising any of the emergency loan schemes established by the government in recent weeks to help mitigate the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

Companies including Carluccio’s, the restaurant chain, and Debenhams, the department store operator, have been unable to avoid administration, despite the provision of that support.

Most of SLG’s workforce has been furloughed under the government scheme which provides up to 80% of employees’ wages, with its operations having been shut down since last month.

Shearings Holidays is one of the most prominent coach tour operators in the UK, serving more than 170 destinations in the UK, Europe and further afield.

The business was set up by Herbert Shearing, and marked its centenary last year.

SLG also owns, which operates self-driving tours, and, which was due to launch last year as a hub for organised trips to events including the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and Wimbledon.

In Scotland, the company also trades under the name Caledonian Travel, another coach holiday operator.

Lone Star became the owner of the group through a wider portfolio of assets it took control of in 2015.

The Texas-based private equity firm has explored a sale of the business on at least two previous occasions.

A spokeswoman for Lone Star Funds declined to comment.

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