Directors of Airtours, the travel group that issued a profits warning last month, enjoyed a cash bonanza yesterday when they sold more than 2 million shares in the company. The sales caused the Airtours share price to fall 2 per cent in early trading, though the price eventually recovered to finish just 3p down at 367p.
The company also confirmed that the summer heatwave in Britain, combined with weak consumer demand, would cause this year's profits to fall by up to 25 per cent.
A spokesman for Airtours denied that the sale by directors was an indication of low expectations of the company's future prospects: "It is just a question of not wanting to have all your eggs in one basket. The directors still own 33 per cent of the company."
David Crossland, the founder and chairman of Airtours, sold 353,000 shares at 359p, raising a total of pounds 1.27m. Tom Trickett, Mr Crossland's brother- in-law, who is also a co-founder and non-executive director, sold 1 million shares at the same price, raising pounds 3.59m.
Other directors who sold shares included Harry Coe, fin- ance director, who made profits of around pounds 1m and marketing director George Marcall, who raised nearly pounds 900,000. The company said the sales by Mr Coe and Mr Trickett were made to meet personal tax obligations.
Airtours has expanded rapidly over the past five years to become Britain's second-largest tour operator after Thomson. But, with the rest of the industry, it was wrong-footed this year by warm weather causing a decline in demand.
The industry had forecast the UK market to grow by 5 per cent this year but it has been static. Tour operators have now cut capacity for next year and raised brochure prices by around 8 per cent.