Exclusive: Hilton Grand Vacations to explore sale following takeover interest - sources

(Reuters) - Hilton Grand Vacations Inc HGV.N has decided to explore strategic alternatives, including a potential sale, following acquisition interest in the U.S. timeshare operator from private equity firms, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

A potential deal would come as the timeshare industry seeks to improve its occupancy rates and shed its reputation of locking customers into complex contracts they do not understand, in the hope of becoming a more popular alternative for U.S. vacationers.

Hilton Grand Vacations has hired an investment bank to advise it on a sale process, the sources said, cautioning that no deal is certain. It has asked for preliminary bids in September, one of the sources added.

Hilton Grand Vacations shares jumped as much as 8.5% on the news, and were trading up 3.5% at $33.51 in afternoon trading in New York on Thursday, giving the company a market capitalization of $2.9 billion.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

Hilton Grand Vacations, which was spun out of hotel operator Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc HLT.N in 2017, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New York Post reported last week that buyout firm Apollo Global Management LLC APO.N, which owns time-share operator Diamond Resorts Holdings LLC, had made an offer for Hilton Grand Vacations.

Headquartered in Orlando, Hilton Grand Vacations develops, markets and operates vacation ownership resorts in destinations such as the Hawaiian Islands, New York City and Las Vegas. It had 54 properties, representing 8,888 units, as of the end of December.

The company also manages and operates two Hilton-branded club membership programs, providing leisure travel and reservation services for more than 315,000 members. It licenses the Hilton Grand Vacations brand from Hilton. It also has an agreement with Hilton to use some Hilton brands and intellectual property for its timeshare business.

These agreements would give Hilton a veto on any sale of the company it would deem detrimental to its brands.

“Our view is that the longer-term growth opportunities for Hilton Grand Vacations are considerable, given its currently limited geographic exposure, forthcoming inventory based on capital spent, and remaining capital resources,” Jefferies analysts wrote in a note last week examining the prospects of a deal.

Last year, another timeshare operator, Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp VAC.N, acquired peer ILG for $4.7 billion, turning it into a more formidable competitor to Hilton Grand Vacations and Wyndham Destinations Inc WYND.N.

Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler