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Certares takes $250m stake in Mystic Invest's cruise business

Mario Ferreira and World Explorer
Mário Ferreira with newbuild World Explorer at WestSea Viana Shipyard PHOTO: Anne Kalosh
It's official: Mystic Invest has closed on a $250m equity investment from Certares Holdings, a global travel, tourism and hospitality investment firm. An equity partner for the fast-growing Portuguese company had been anticipated.

40% stake in cruise holdings

The amount was not officially disclosed but Portugal's Exame magazine reported Mystic founder and principal Mário Ferreira sold a 40% stake for €250m, which would value the cruise division at €625m.

Certares joins Ferreira's family as shareholders of Mystic, a Porto-based holding company that developed and leads the Douro River cruise business under DouroAzul, owns Germany's Nicko Cruises and is branching into ocean expedition cruising under Mystic Cruises, with first newbuild World Explorer recently delivered, and Fort Lauderdale-based marketing/sales office Mystic Cruises USA.

Eventual NYSE listing?

Exame also said Ferreira is eyeing a float on the New York Stock Exchange in 2024.

Certares' investment entails the DouroAzul, Nicko Cruises, Mystic Cruises and Mystic Cruises USA brands. The Ferreira family has retained full ownership of its existing non-cruise businesses.

AmaWaterways, Travel Leaders Group

Certares' other cruise- and travel-related investments include river operator AmaWaterways and Travel Leaders Group, a collection of prominent travel brands and travel distributors including Travel Leaders Network, Nexion, Protravel International, Tzell, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists and Colletts Travel, among others.

DouroAzul is Portugal's leading river cruise provider. With more than 20 years of experience, the company fields its own day tour and overnight cruise vessels along with building and operating vessels for brands including AmaWaterways, Avalon, Jules Verne, Riviera, Scenic, Uniworld and Viking.

Nicko Cruises offers cruise programs across 12 rivers in Europe, China and Southeast Asia.

Ten-strong expedition fleet planned

Mystic Cruises is building a fleet of what Ferreira hopes will stretch to 10 expedition ships, that are to operate on charter to companies like Quark Expeditions as well as Mystic's own Nicko and under the Mystic Cruises brand. The first, World Explorer, was handed over by WestSea Viana Shipyard a few weeks ago.

Mystic Cruises USA has just been established in Fort Lauderdale as a distributor of the company's ocean cruises, which will offer expedition-style adventures in far-flung destinations. Four ships are initially dedicated to the US market: World Navigator and World Traveller, due to enter service in 2021, followed by World Seeker and World Adventurer in 2022.

Partnership for growth

'Our partnership with Certares comes at a wonderful period of opportunity and growth for Mystic,' Ferreira said. 'We look forward to continuing our growth in the river cruising market and expanding our capabilities with the launch of our expedition fleet. We are proud of the company we have built and welcome Certares as shareholders in our family business. By partnering with Certares, we will be able to leverage its expertise in the global travel industry to continue to innovate and provide the very best experience for our guests.'

For his part, Colin Farmer, senior managing director and head of the management committee of Certares Management LLC, expressed satisfaction in partnering with the Ferreira family, adding that Mário, wife Paula and the Mystic team have built a 'wonderful business, with durable and growing leadership positions on the Douro River, in the German market with Nicko Cruises and as an emerging expedition cruise operator globally.

'We look forward to supporting the company as it enters the expedition cruising space, which is an exciting next chapter in the company’s development,' Farmer continued. 'We are partnering with an exceptional team in a growing and innovative business.'