Airtours pays pounds 20m for Aspro Travel: Half-year loss up sharply after pounds 9m cost of failed bid for Owners Abroad

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AIRTOURS, which failed to take over Owners Abroad earlier this year, is paying pounds 20m for Aspro Travel, the seventh-largest tour operator in the UK, with a 4 per cent market share.

David Crossland, chairman of Airtours, the second-largest operator behind Thomson, said: 'Aspro would complement our strengths. It is strong in the South-west, Wales and number one in Northern Ireland.'

Airtours has more than 15 per cent of the summer holiday market, compared with 29.5 per cent for Thomson and 13.8 per cent for Owners.

Aspro is family-run and based in Cardiff. It has 700 employees and sells 400,000 holidays a year.

Airtours also announced results for the six months to 31 March, showing the heavy costs of its bid for Owners.

The bid cost Airtours a net pounds 9m, made up of pounds 5m in fees plus pounds 4m from buying and selling Owners shares during the takeover fight. That left the half-year loss higher at pounds 15.9m, against pounds 5.6m last time.

'We would play it different next time,' admitted Mr Crossland, whose aspirations were thwarted by the intervention of Thomas Cook, the German-controlled travel agency.

Airtours said it would keep its bid promise to increase its dividend by 20 per cent this year. The half-year payout has been lifted from 0.55p to 1p, partly to reduce the disparity between interim and final dividends.

On trading, Mr Crossland said summer bookings were 23 per cent ahead of last year. The recent purchase of the Hogg Robinson chain would also yield 'considerable benefits'.

Profits for the third quarter were ahead of last year, which in total produced a taxable profit of pounds 36.5m. Analysts expect Airtours to make more than pounds 47m for the whole of 1992/3.

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