The joint liquidators of the USIT student travel group have agreed to sell its brand and online operators to a company owned by its former CEO, and a former shareholder.

USIT Ireland specialised in US summer work and related travel programmes and was based on Dublin's Aston Quay.

It was part of a group that also included a school and group tours business and the Dublin College of Business Studies. The combined businesses employed 149 people.

However last month liquidators were appointed to the group, with the Covid-19 pandemic blamed for its collapse.

They have now agreed the sale of the USIT brand and its onlinen operations to GenTAO Ltd, which is headed up by USIT's former CEO Elaine Russell, and a former shareholder in the group, David Andrews.

It followed a sales process that involved 19 expressions of interest and four subsequent bids.

"We are happy to say that the process to sell USIT, which was the jewel in the crown of the Kinlay Group, has been concluded with the highest bid being submitted by a company owned by Elaine Russell and David Andrews," said joint liquidators Kieran Wallace and Andrew O'Leary of KPMG. "The sale process for the brand garnered significant interest and we are pleased to have achieved the best possible value for creditors."

Mr Andrews said the group had collapsed despite the previous owners' best efforts, however the USIT brand had been profitable until the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

"But regretfully it wasn't possible to separate it out from the necessary liquidation process," he said. "Over the past few weeks we have worked to make a strong bid for this great brand and we are delighted that it was accepted by the liquidator."

Ms Russell said they were pleased to have had their bid accepted - though they expected a quiet few months ahead due to the ongoing travel restrictions.

"However, we anticipate that we will be creating jobs in the sector as customer demand returns," she said.

"Decisions in relation to staffing requirements will be made over time as we grow our new team.  Of course, where possible we would like to draw on the expertise of people who have worked with USIT in the past."

The joint liquidators said that they expected around 98% of those who had had bookings cancelled in recent weeks would be able to claim refunds, either via credit or debit cards or through the consumer protection scheme which supports bonded travel agents.