Cook may sell First Choice stake

Thomas Cook, the travel agent now owned by Westdeutsche Landesbank, is widely expected to unload its 11 per cent stake in tour operator First Choice following its acquisition yesterday of Sunworld, Britain's fifth- largest package holiday group.

The deal, in which Cook paid Spain's Grupo Viajes Iberia an undisclosed sum, bolsters the agent's presence in the UK tour industry which is dominated by Canada's Thomson, and British rivals Airtours and First Choice.

Sunworld controls 5 per cent of the British short-haul package holiday market behind the three largest players, which have almost 60 per cent between them, and Cosmos/Avro with 6 per cent.

"We have always enjoyed an excellent relationship with the company and today's announcement is a natural extension of our existing association," Ulrich Zierke, the chief executive, said. Sunworld's brands include Summersun and Wintersun, Sunworld Sailing, Sunworld Beach Villas and the charter airline Airworld.

Thomas Cook said Sunworld would complement its travel agency operations, long-haul holidays and foreign-exchange business. It has installed Nigel Hards, its former director of UK retail operations, as managing director, replacing chief executive Peter Long who is leaving immediately.

The deal with Sunworld draws a line under Thomas Cook's attempt to form an alliance with First Choice, in which it took a 21 per cent stake in 1993 as part of the tour operator's successful defence against a hostile bid from Airtours.

The partnership, designed to counter the vertically integrated operations of Thomson, which owns travel agent Lunn Poly, and Airtours, which owns Going Places, never lived up to its potential and the relationship has been on the rocks for a while.

A spokeswoman for Thomas Cook refused to say whether the Sunworld deal would mean it would sell its First Choice stake but she did say that it would have no impact on the commercial relationship between the two companies.

"We will continue to sell their products through our shops," she said.

The deal signals a significant shake-up in the UK holiday industry at a time when all the large players are reviewing their strategies to counter the cut-throat competition and over-capacity that blew a hole in profits last year.

Airtours has been expanding rapidly in North America and Scandinavia. Thomson, meanwhile, is denying rumours that it is planning to sell or float its UK Thomson Travel arm.

Separately yesterday, Inspirations, Britain's sixth-largest tour operator, said it was paying pounds 1.75m to acquire Skiers World, a ski-tour group. The deal will be funded by a pounds 12m rights issue of two convertible shares for every five ordinaries.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
people
News
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
people
News
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Developer - Watford - £45,000 - £47,000

£45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Product Manager - (Financial Services) - SW London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us