Club 18-30 on the block as Thomas Cook launches January sale

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The Independent Online

Club 18-30, the travel business desperately trying to ditch its sex-on-the-beach image, is believed to have been put up for sale by Thomas Cook.

The German-owned Thomas Cook is focusing increasingly on its core brands and mainstream holidays. It is understood to have put a number of small specialist units up for sale, the most famous of which is Club 18-30, which was acquired when Thomas Cook bought its rival Flying Colours in 1998.

Also on the block are Style, a villa holiday company; Neilson, which has sailing and skiing holidays; and Ireland's Sun World. A spokeswoman for Thomas Cook declined to comment.

Last year, Club 18-30 marked its 40th birthday by hiring Saatchi & Saatchi to "address misconceptions of the brand". The ad agency has been charged with putting together a new marketing campaign that portrays a more sophisticated image for the Club 18-30 holiday. Turning its back on past ad campaigns, such as "Beaver Espana" and "Summer of 69", last year's £1.5m marketing blitz tried to put across a cool and exclusive image with a "be on the list" catchline, and no mention of drink or sex.

The company also broadened the range of pursuits available in its resorts to include golf, spa treatments, shopping trips and scuba diving.

The business claimed it was responding to a changing marketplace in which young adults demanded more from their holidays. However, it has since admitted that there has not been much take-up of these more wholesome activities.

Holidaymakers are also now offered more flexibility over flights and they can book accommodation-only breaks, from just £1 a night. It has also started long-haul flights, with a trip to Cancun, Mexico, on offer.

In the past, Club 18-30 was known for drinking and wild parties. Drunken brawls and lewd acts in public, performed by holiday reps and customers, hit the headlines. In 2003, three Club 18-30 reps were arrested on the Greek island of Faliraki but acquitted of organising bar crawls, which had been banned in the resort. In the same year, five of the firm's reps quit after allegedly taking part in "live sex acts'' in the resort of Kavos on Corfu.

The number of Club 18-30 holidaymakers peaked at 100,000 at the start of the century, but fell to 59,000 by 2004. The company has said this was more to do with world events such as the Iraq war and its own decision to curtail numbers rather than the bad publicity. Since the Saatchi & Saatchi campaign was launched, customers have increased and Club 18-30 hopes to take some 82,000 on holiday this year.

Thomas Cook was aiming to return to profit last year, after several years of losses. Its joint owners, the airline Deutsche Lufthansa and the retailer KarstadtQuelle, have suggested the company may be floated or sold.

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