The owner of Britain’s biggest chain of upmarket holiday villages is lining up bankers to oversee a review of its options, which could pave the way for an auction valuing it at £4bn.
Sky News understands that Brookfield Property Partners, the Canadian property giant, is close to appointing Barclays to advise on the future of Center Parcs UK – an investment it has held since 2015.
An outright sale, the disposal of a minority stake or a public flotation are all potential alternatives for Brookfield.
Center Parcs UK recently recorded the most profitable half-year in its history in spite of pandemic-related operating constraints.
Barclays is a significant lender to the company, and is said to have been particularly supportive during the early part of the COVID-19 crisis.
It has yet to be formally hired by Brookfield, but an insider said it was highly likely to win a role on a strategic review of Center Parcs UK.
Center Parcs is one of the most famous brands in the British leisure industry, drawing millions of visitors annually to its five UK sites and the latest addition to its portfolio, at Longford Forest in Ireland.
Its locations offer a mixture of adventure and leisure activities for families, such as watersports and horse riding, as well as spa packages.
The company opened its first site in the UK in 1987 at Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire.
Its other UK locations are at Elveden Forest in Suffolk; Longleat Forest in Wiltshire; Whinfell Forest in Cumbria; and Woburn Forest in Bedfordshire.
Center Parcs has been a public company in the past, being floated on London’s junior AIM market in 2003 before moving to a main market listing two years later.
It was then taken over by Blackstone, the private equity firm, in 2006, before being sold to Brookfield in 2015 in a deal reported to have been worth £2.4bn.
Center Parcs’ UK and Ireland operations are owned separately to the European business that also trades under the brand.
The brand dates back to 1968, when the first village opened in the Netherlands.
Run by Martin Dalby, its chief executive for more than 20 years, Center Parcs’ shareholders have received hundreds of millions of pounds in dividends since Brookfield bought the business.
Any auction of the business would follow a glut of other deals in the UK holiday sector, with the likes of Park Leisure, Forest Holidays and Park Holidays all recently changing hands in deals worth in aggregate more than £1.3bn.
The UK’s largest operator, Parkdean Resorts, is also expected to be sold in the coming months, with Butlin’s, one of the most famous names in the industry, also up for sale.
Center Parcs declined to comment.