Cook sells US corporate travel arm to Amex for pounds 250m

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The Independent Online
THOMAS Cook sold its corporate travel management business to American Express yesterday, and will soon lose its network of US travel representatives to its arch-rival as well.

American Express will pay dollars 375m ( pounds 250m) for the two businesses, buying the corporate travel services directly from London-based Thomas Cook Group, and the 385 US travel offices from its American licensee, Boston's Paresky family. Thomas Cook, which is owned by Germany's Westdeutche Landesbank, was barred by US banking laws from owning an American travel agency, although it continues to run travellers' cheque and currency-exchange operations there.

The deal is part of a strategic refocus by Thomas Cook, which has decided to abandon corporate travel - about 10 per cent of its business last year with dollars 1.1bn in sales - to concentrate on consumer travel and services.

The company said yesterday that there was 'nothing to stop it appointing a new leisure travel representative' to serve Thomas Cook travellers visiting the US. The Pareskys have been half-owners of Thomas Cook Travel Partners (USA) - America's third- largest travel agents, with dollars 1.9bn in sales - since the 1970s, and last year bought the rest of the US licensee from the estate of Robert Maxwell.

The agencies will be merged into American Express's network of US offices. Thomas Cook's travellers' cheques continue to be marketed in the US through Chase Manhattan, Bank of America and other issuers.

The deal is a coup for American Express, increasing its annual turnover by about a third to dollars 12bn. The addition of Thomas Cook's 250 business travel offices will give it a commanding position in business travel and expense management worldwide.

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