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Airtours upbeat as Kuoni's bid for First Choice fails

FIRST CHOICE'S hopes of merging with Kuoni, the Swiss tour operator, were dashed yesterday when the group failed to win enough shareholder support for the deal.

Kuoni announced it had received acceptances from investors owning just over 30 per cent of shares for its offer to buy First Choice by yesterday's lunchtime deadline.

Airtours, whose lapsed bid for First Choice is being investigated by the European Commission, said it was delighted with the news.

David Crossland, chairman of Airtours, said: "I am very pleased that the offers from Kuoni Holdings for First Choice have lapsed. I very much hope that the First Choice board will now give Airtours all possible support in its efforts to convince the European Commission that the acquisition of First Choice by Airtours should be permitted to proceed."

A pounds 950m offer by Airtours won support from shareholders owning over 50 per cent earlier this year, but the takeover was called off after the Commission announced it was investigating competition issues.

The result is bad news for the board of First Choice which had recommended that shareholders accept Kuoni's offer to create a pan-European travel group.

Ian Clubb, chairman of First Choice, said: "If shareholders did not support the Kuoni merger because they thought Airtours would return, we believe they will be disappointed by the results of the European Commission investigation."