The Tollman family cut final ties with Wilderness

02 Sep 2018

The billionaire Tollman family this week dropped from Wilderness Holdings Limited board of directors, ending a relationship that started over a decade ago.

On Tuesday, two days before the slated annual general meeting to re-appoint directors, the ecotourism company listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange Limited, announced that non-executive directors Michael and Gavin Tollman have resigned from the board with effect from 23 August.

“Michael Tollman has served on Wilderness boards since 2005 and Gavin Tollman since the listing in 2010. The Board thanks both directors for their long service, support and contribution over these years and wishes them the best for the future,” said Lu-Anne Alexander, Wilderness’s group company secretary.

While they had initially made themselves eligible for the pending elections and re-elections of directors, it became apparent that this will not be likely as the Tollman no longer had vested interest in the safari company. The anticipated resignation paved way for new shareholders to have a seat at the table. The representatives of the new shareholders have already been appointed to the board.

Until late July, the Tollman family was the largest single shareholder in Wilderness Holdings through Wine Investments Limited, their investment company. In July, the Tollman disposed of their entire shareholding in Wilderness Holdings after they sold their shares to The Rise Fund, a social impact investment fund managed by TPG Growth. Although no financial details were released, Wine Investments’ stake in Wilderness Holdings was 80, 697, 582 ordinary shares, translating to 34 percent shareholding, and if the shares were sold at the then prevailing price P5.86, the Tollman pocketed more than P472.9 million from the transaction.

Now awash with cash, the family with vast interests in the hospitality industry recently acquired Great Explorations which operates a safari Camp known as Xigera Camp in the Okavango Delta. In a deal approved by the Competition Authority earlier this month, Mountbatten Limited acquired 100 percent shareholding in Great Explorations from Okavango Wilderness Safaris (OWS). The latter is a subsidiary of Wilderness Holdings Limited.

The acquiring enterprise, Mountbatten, through its complex ownership structure, brought names already familiar to Wilderness Holdings. Mountbatten is wholly owned by Travcorp Financial Services Limited which is in turn wholly owned by Travel Corporation Limited, an entity registered in British Virgin Islands. The Travel Corporation or Travcorp is a huge travel and leisure group owned by the Tollman family.

The gigantic Travcorp, with 29 brands operating across 70 countries, is expanding into southern and eastern Africa, launching itineraries for three of its key brands (Trafalgar, Contiki, and Luxury Gold). While already active in Egypt and Morocco, Trafalgar, Contiki, and Luxury Gold will offer starting in 2019 a range of multi-day escorted vacations to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.

The sale of Great Explorations, which operates the Xigera Camp, to the Tollman family through Mountbatten came at a price consideration of P16.8 million. Xigera Camp lies on Paradise Island, surrounded by deep channels and lush vegetation within a remote area of the Moremi Game Reserve. The camp with nine raised luxury tents and superb views of the classic Okavango Delta floodplains does not come cheap: the rates could swing between P7000 to P12000 per night depending on the season peak.

Despite its location in a pristine area, Xigera Camp is said to have performed below expectations in the preceding five years and required a substantial capital investment for refurbishment. Xigera together with Xarei Camp are Wilderness Holdings’ oldest camps after being commissioned as the company’s first permanent camps in 1985, two years after Wilderness Holdings was established in Botswana.

“It is the Wilderness board’s position that the capital investment required will not be justified by the corresponding return on such investment. The board further understands that Mountbatten is willing to inject the required capital investment into the Camp,” said Wilderness Holdings when justifying the sale. “It is for this reason, together with a desire to improve Wilderness’ balance of ‘land’ and ‘water’ camps that the proposed Transaction has been entered into.”