Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) has bought a 49 percent stake in Sir Rocco Forte's luxury hotel group and plans to double the chain's size over the next five years with new hotels in the Middle East, Italy, and the US.
The deal, announced on Monday, values Forte's group of 14 hotels across Europe at £1.2bn and implies an enterprise value, including debt, of £1.4bn, according to people familiar with the details.
As part of the deal, Italian sovereign wealth fund CDP Equity, which owned a 23 percent stake, will exit the business, along with four of Forte's five sisters, according to the Financial Times.
Founder Rocco Forte, alongside his sister Olga Polizzi, will retain a controlling 51 percent stake. They will remain in the positions of CEO and Vice President, respectively.
In an interview with the Financial Times in Brown's Hotel in London's Mayfair, Forte, who chairs the group, said he was "very bullish" about demand from US travelers, which account for more than a third of turnover, and that he expected "a lot more business" from visitors based in the Middle East thanks to the partnership with Saudi Arabia.
It is not the first time that Forte has promised expansion, but he said the backing of Saudi Arabia would give the business more financial firepower this time.
"We're in a good position in the right industry at the right time," said Forte, arguing that the luxury hotel sector was "quite protected [from an economic slowdown] compared to the rest of the economy."
"Having a partner like PIF gives you much more solidity to the outside eye . . . banks love you much more," said Forte.
The deal is the latest in a long line of investments in the luxury hospitality sector by the PIF as part of a push by the Fund to diversify Saudi Arabia's economy away from fossil fuels.
PIF Deputy Governor Turqi al-Nowaiser said the investment reflects the Fund's belief in the "current potential of the hospitality and tourism industry."
The Fund will be given two board seats, and the Forte family will have three.
From the year to the end of April, Rocco Forte Hotels recorded group revenues of £ 293.5 million, up from £ 166.5 million a year earlier when coronavirus restrictions affected trading. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization were £64 million, up from £18.1 million a year earlier.