Airtours declares war on Thomson

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(First Edition)

THE ALREADY intense competition between Britain's leading holiday companies intensified yesterday as Airtours, the second largest, made a hostile 221m takeover bid for Owners Abroad.

Thomson Holidays' undisputed position as the biggest holiday company will be threatened if Airtours is successful in taking over Owners, the third largest.

Together Airtours and Owners would control about 30 per cent of the overseas tour market, compared with Thomson's 33 per cent.

Airtours owns its own charter airline fleet and runs tour operations under its name. The company also recently bought the 334-strong chain of Pickfords travel agents.

Owners, the more upmarket company of the two, has a charter fleet Air 2000 and sells holidays under brand names including Enterprise, Sovereign, Falcon and Olympic. It also has a marketing agreement with Tjaereborg.

David Crossland, chairman and founder of Airtours, said a merger would 'create a very significant force in the UK travel industry'. He was confident the bid would not be blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Rumours that Airtours was preparing a bid have been circulating for several months, although the timing of yesterday's move surprised many people in the City and the travel industry.

Tomorrow should have seen Owners finalise a partnership with Thomas Cook, the travel agency chain bought from Midland Bank by LTU of Germany.

The link with Cook, which was put on hold yesterday, would have given Owners much-needed access to the high street. Airtours achieved that through the Pickfords acquisition.

Owners yesterday attacked Airtours and said the financial terms of the bid were inadequate and that it preferred to forge an alliance with Thomas Cook. Howard Klein, chairman of Owners, said a takeover by Airtours would 'work against the interests of the industry and the consumer'.

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