Hornblower Acquires Walks, Rebrands as City Experiences

The move by one of the largest tour and activity companies signals the their intent to become not just a leading city cruise operator, but a global experiences brand. Expect more acquisitions, and more M&A overall as our industry remakes itself post-Covid.

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Hornblower, one of the largest tour and activity brands known for its ferry and city cruise experiences in more than 100 cities across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., has rebranded as City Experiences. The new website, cityexperiences.com, launched this week and provides access to the company’s various city cruise brands. 

Known for its leading position in the city cruise market, Hornblower operations include Statue Cruises for the Statue of Liberty in New York, Niagara City Cruises serving Niagara Falls, Alcatraz Cruises in San Francisco, and Boston Harbor Cruises. The separately branded websites of those operations now direct to CityExperiences.com. 

From Sea to Land

The company is also moving aggressively into land-based experiences. Today, Hornblower announced the acquisition of Walks, a walking tour company with operations in 14 cities in Europe and the U.S. Stephen Oddo, co-founder and CEO of Walks, who will stay on with the company, said Hornblower plans to expand their land-based offerings to serve their large base of city-cruise customers.

“Creating a single brand identity allows us a greater connection between our land and water experiences, focused marketing and sales efforts, increased guest recognition of our collective City Experiences offerings, and ultimately easier cross-selling of our portfolio within cities and between global destination markets,” said Kristina Heney in a press release. 

Kristina Heney, City Experiences Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer

According to the company’s website, Hornblower, now City Experiences, serves nearly 10 million cruise and events guests annually (presumably based on 2019).

Walks will continue as its brand, Oddo said, and its tours will be incorporated into the City Experiences website over the next several weeks. The site now includes minimal land activities, such as tickets to select attractions in New York and San Francisco. Oddo said Walks plans to expand in the U.S. to enhance the City Experiences portfolio, and plans to rehire some staff laid off during the pandemic. 

Just the Beginning

Walks’ acquisition is the fifth acquisition by the Hornblower Group in three years and the fourth since the pandemic took hold. In 2019 the company acquired Entertainment Cruises, a city cruise operation based in Chicago, followed by City Cruises, a U.K.-based river cruise company. 

As travel came to a standstill in 2020 due to Covid-19, Hornblower Group acquired three shore excursion companies that aggregate tour and activity experiences and sell them to cruise lines worldwide. The company acquired Shore Excursions of America in 2020, and ShoreTrips and Cruise Excursions in 2021.

The acquisitions give City Experiences a significant footprint of tours, activities, and experiences across 111 countries. But it is also an uneven one, with a mix of limited wholly-owned land-based tour offerings in the U.S. and Europe but a larger network of contracted, third-party experiences through the shore excursion operations. 

This is likely just the beginning of further acquisitions as City Experiences seeks to establish itself as a global, integrated tours and activities brand. 

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