Milne Sells Majority Stake in Travel Firm
West Lebanon — Milne Travel, the Barre, Vt.-based travel agency owned by former Vermont GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne, has sold a controlling stake in the company to the New York-based travel management giant Altour International Inc.
Milne said the “business partnership” will provide Milne Travel, which has offices in four states, with a wider reach to compete for corporate accounts in addition to savings by tapping into Altour’s infrastructure and resources.
“It gives us a lot more bandwidth and ability to attract the $10 million to $15 million corporate client that we are capable of handling but don’t really get a serious look at because we’re viewed as a regional player,” Milne, a Pomfret resident who often works out of the agency’s West Lebanon office, said in an interview Wednesday. “We’ll be much more able to compete for that kind of business and we think it’s going to be a great thing for jobs in the North Country.”
Milne Travel was founded in 1975 by Milne’s parents, the late Marion and Donald Milne, and has been owned and run by Milne since 1996.
The 75-employee American Express-affiliated firm provides leisure and corporate travel services, group travel plans and convention and association meeting travel arrangements and has managed to achieve growth even as the number of small to mid-level travel agencies have declined as much of the industry’s services have shifted to providers.
Under the deal, the assets of Milne Travel have been transferred into a joint venture with Altour, in which Altour holds a 51 percent stake and Milne owns 49 percent. Milne received an undisclosed payment for his former share of equity in the business.
Milne said his agency has worked with Altour for several years on joint projects and talks about partnering began about a year ago. He likened the joint venture to his firm’s affiliation with American Express, which gives clients access to American Express-sponsored programs, services and discounts.
Milne will remain president of the joint venture, which now is called Milne Travel American Express, an Altour company. Milne said his travel agency has annual revenues of between $50 million to $60 million.
Altour President Alexandre Chemla called Milne Travel “a great fit for us.” The New York company annually has about $2.5 billion in sales.
Milne, who acknowledged he is weighing a run later this year for the U.S. Senate seat held by the retiring Patrick Leahy, said the joint venture with Altour places his firm on a solid financial footing “should I get lucky … it gives me the ability to step back for six years.”
Milne comes from a political family: His mother, Marion, represented parts of Orange County in the Vermont House of Representatives in the 1990s and early 2000s; His father, Don, who died earlier this year, was the clerk of the Vermont House; his grandfather Henry Milne also served in the Vermont House and his father’s cousin Jim Milne was Vermont secretary of state in the late 1990s.
Scott Milne himself narrowly lost to Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Milne said the sale of a majority stake in his firm is “not related” to the roughly $1.5 million in borrowing he has tied up in the Quechee Highlands commercial real estate development plan near Interstate 89 in Quechee. The project has won Act 250 approval, but that is being challenged in the Vermont Supreme Court by opponents who argue it runs afoul of the regional plan. Milne said earlier this year the stalled project is costing him and his partners between $15,000 and $20,000 a month.
In an email to the Valley News, Milne noted that the travel agency turned 40 years old on Wednesday, and it was started by his mother after she graduated from college at age 40.
“My mom liked numbers,” he said.
John Lippman can be reached at 603-727-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.