Ailing Thomas Cook in Spanish hotels fire sale

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The Independent Online

The crisis-torn travel group Thomas Cook offloaded a Spanish hotels and golf club business yesterday, as part of a drive to slash debts that threaten to engulf the 170-year-old company.

The move comes ahead of delayed annual results today which are expected to see the travel company announce a sweeping package of store closures and job cuts, and perhaps a new corporate strategy. It is selling its stake in Hoteles Y Clubs De Vacaciones — five hotels and a golf club — for €72.2m (£61m ).

Because the firm holds debts of €22.4m, the transaction will ease its £1bn debt predicament by €94.6m in all. It will still be able to book the hotels for its customers via a deal with new owner Iberostar.

Thomas Cook was thrown into crisis two weeks ago when the company delayed its results announcement, admitted present trading is awful and said it needed a cash injection from banks to survive.

It has since cut a deal that will get the travel operator through the tricky winter period and hopefully give it breathing space to regroup.

The company is without a permanent boss since ousting Manny Fontenla-Novoa in the summer. He had been paid £15 million since 2007.

Thomas Cook employs 30,000 people, of whom 20,000 are in stores up and down the country.

Analysts expect it to shut at least 200 of its 1,100 travel shops and axe about 1,000 jobs.

It could also unveil a move upmarket, an admission that its present offering is seen as out of date.

Sam Weihagen, the company's interim chief executive, said today's deal "demonstrates our ongoing commitment to strengthen the balance sheet".

The battered shares – they fell 70 per cent on the day Thomas Cook admitted to being in trouble – yesterday edged up 0.32p to 15.59p.

The company has been left looking increasingly flat-footed by arch-rival Tui Travel, owner of the Thomson brand, which last week reported an 18% leap in full-year profits.

l German travel and logistics group TUI fired hopes that it could shortly buy out London-listed TUI Travel as it tendered a 33 per cent stake in container shipping firm Hapag-Lloyd to its majority shareholder. TUI already owns 55 per cent of TUI Travel, which was created from the merger of tour operators First Choice and Thomson.

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