Adios España, says First Choice

First choice Holidays beat a retreat from Spain's retail market yesterday, selling its chain of travel agents and its business travel operations back to the Spanish company it bought them from three years ago for €43.5m (£30.2m).

The British tour operator is keeping the bulk of its Barcelo travel division, a destination services business and its Hotelbeds.com website, and selling only those businesses it considers non-core.

First Choice, the smallest of the UK's major travel companies, has focused on selling specialist holidays to distinguish itself from mass-market rivals such as Thomas Cook and MyTravel.

It has invested about £110m in its Barcelo travel interests since 2000, comprising an initial payment of £33.7m and a later payment in shares worth about £77m.

But Andrew Martin, the finance director, said the total investment was closer to £60m, once the money raised from selling down its 20 per cent stake in Globalia, the Spanish owner of the Air Europa fleet that it also acquired in 2000, was added to yesterday's proceeds.

Destination services, which organises coaches and day trips for incoming tour groups in eight countries, from Mexico to Turkey, and Hotelbeds.com, which caters for the business market, are "central to our strategy going forward", Mr Martin said.

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