Airtours stunned as senior board member quits to join Thomson

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The Independent Online

The board of Airtours, the UK's biggest tour operator, has been left stunned by the sudden resignation of Peter Rothwell, one of its senior board members, who announced yesterday he was joining the company's rival, Thomson Travel.

The board of Airtours, the UK's biggest tour operator, has been left stunned by the sudden resignation of Peter Rothwell, one of its senior board members, who announced yesterday he was joining the company's rival, Thomson Travel.

Mr Rothwell, who will become chief operating officer for Thomson in the UK, as well as overseeing the group's overseas operations and travel agency distribution including Lunn Poly, told the Airtours board late on Thursday evening that he was leaving.

It is believed that the move came as a complete surprise to senior management at Airtours, who asked Mr Rothwell, 45, to clear his desk that evening.

Mr Rothwell is now on "gardening leave", a source said yesterday. Thomson's lawyers are understood to be negotiating with counterparts at Airtours to release Mr Rothwell from his contract.He is thought to have negotiated a significant premium on his basic Airtours salary of £250,000 in his new role.

Mr Rothwell worked as purchasing director for Thomson Holidays and director of Lunn Poly before moving to Airtours five years ago.

A Thomson spokesman said: "This is a key period of expansion for Thomson. It will be very important to have someone with as much experience in tour operating as Peter in this role."

However, analysts said Mr Rothwell, who was chief executive of Airtours' UK leisure unit, was not a significant member of the group's board. "He did not have large operational responsibilities," one said.

Airtours was yesterday down 1p to 215.5p. Thomson, which has about 25 per cent of the UK tour operating business, was bought by Germany's Preussag earlier this year for £1.8bn. The group said it wanted to expend its presence in Europe's travel markets.

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