Amex nabs Thomas Cook in US

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The Independent Online
THOMAS COOK travel agents in the US, once part of Robert Maxwell's empire, are to be bought by arch-rival American Express in a big consolidation of the tourism business in North America.

The group - America's third- largest travel agency network - is a licensee of Thomas Cook in Britain and is owned by Boston's Paresky family.

The Pareskys, long-time managers and half-owners of the 385 American offices, bought Maxwell's 50 per cent stake from the administrators early last year for an undisclosed sum. The offices do business worth about dollars 2.8bn annually.

The deal, which does not involve Thomas Cook Group's bureaux de change and travellers cheque operations in the US, will be announced on Monday, officials close to the parties said. The terms of the sale are unknown, but the officials said the agencies would no longer bear the Thomas Cook name.

American Express, which has been on an acquisition drive in the industry, having bought five big agencies around the world over the past three years, is also reportedly in talks with Thomas Cook Group in Britain about acquiring its international business travel operation. The group, once owned by Midland Bank, was bought by Germany's Westdeutche Landesbank and LTU in 1992.

Travel industry executives say the takeover of Thomas Cook Travel in the US is a big coup for American Express, eliminating both a serious travel rival and considerably reducing the US presence of its principal competitor in the travellers-cheque business.

Not only will Thomas Cook Group lose its travel services representatives in the US; its foreign exchange bureaux in many cases share space with the travel agencies.

Worldwide, Thomas Cook Group has about 2,000 travel offices in 120 countries, and operates the world's largest network of bureaux de change.