By Simon Meads
LONDON (Reuters) - AXA Private Equity and Permira are considering a listing for Europe's largest online travel agency OdigeO, people familiar with the situation said, which could help the group expand into new markets and maintain its fast growth rate.
The firms have had talks with banks about advising on a possible initial public offering (IPO) next year that could value the company at up to 1.5 billion euros ($1.9 billion), the people said.
If Barcelona-headquartered OdigeO floats, it would represent a quick turnaround in an otherwise difficult market for private equity houses to sell or list their business.
By opting for an IPO, the private equity backers would secure funds to help with OdigeO's expansion into new markets and put the company on track for a potentially lucrative final exit, which could come a couple of years after the initial listing.
AXA Private Equity, the private equity arm of the French insurer AXA, and Permira created OdigeO little over a year ago, by acquiring travel bookings group Opodo and merging it with their existing portfolio companies -- Go Voyages and eDreams.
OdigeO could potentially list in London, Paris or Madrid, one of the people said, reflecting the origins of its three component businesses.
No bankers have officially been appointed, and no final decision to list the company has been made, the people added.
AXA Private Equity, Permira and OdigeO either declined to comment, or were not available for comment.
OdigeO had gross bookings of 3.9 billion euros in 2011, a 14 percent increase on 2010, when the travel firms operated independently. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) increased 11 percent over the year, according to company data.
Despite the downturn hitting many in the travel industry, OdigeO has continued to see strong growth, helped by consumer preferences shifting towards online bookings.
OdigeO, which operates under the Opodo, eDreams, Go Voyages and Travellink brands, has more than 14 million customers and operations in some 28 countries, with a further 10 earmarked for development, including Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.
There have been few listings of private equity-owned companies since the credit crisis due to market volatility and concerns over high debt levels.
However, some companies have attracted investor interest with their growth prospects and the promise of regular dividends.
The listing of Opodo's former owner Amadeus earned its private equity backers BC Partners and Cinven about seven times their initial investments, while its shares trade at nearly 70 percent above the 2010 IPO price.
Meanwhile, Dutch cable group Ziggo, one of Europe's few listings this year, is currently trading 45 percent above its IPO price.
($1 = 0.7743 euros)
(Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris. Editing by Jane Merriman)