Director quits ebookers over cuts

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The Independent Online

Ebookers, the long-haul flight specialist that issued a profit warning last month, announced the surprise departure of its commercial director yesterday after a disagreement over the group's gradual move to abandon the offline travel business.

Ebookers, the long-haul flight specialist that issued a profit warning last month, announced the surprise departure of its commercial director yesterday after a disagreement over the group's gradual move to abandon the offline travel business.

Peter Liney, one of only three executive directors, quit yesterday after less than six months in the role. He joined ebookers in January 2003 when the group bought Travelbag.

Dinesh Dhamija, the chief executive, said: "There was a difference of opinion. He prefers offline to online." Mr Liney, who was on a £220,000-a-year package, will receive a pay-off, a spokesman added.

Mr Dhamija said his decision, announced last month, to split his controversial role of chairman and chief executive did not signal an intention to step back. "I have got too much tied up in ebookers," he said. Mr Dhamija's 41.5 per cent stake lost one-third of its value after the company's profit warning.

His comments came as ebookers attempted to reassure investors that it was well positioned despite last month's hiccup. The group's pre-tax losses for the three months to 30 June narrowed to £6.4m from £6.9m.

The company, which is scaling back its high street business, said demand for long-haul flights had returned. "Everyone had a bad June because of the European football championships; ours ended in July," Mr Dhamija said.

The group has cut 200 jobs - one-sixth of its European workforce - so far this year and shut or sold nine travel agents in the UK and the Netherlands. It has no current plans to close any of its eight remaining high street outlets. "Although the costs to service them are higher, they make a profit," Mr Dhamija said.

The group said operating costs during the first six months of the year spiralled to £38.7m from £30.4m. It said its costs were 40 per cent lower than its online rivals and reflected rising sales. During its second quarter, it handled bookings worth £136m against £118m a year ago. It expects to save an annualised £4m from its redundancy programme.

The company said it had appointed headhunters to find a non-executive chairman in the wake of last year's Higgs report. Its shares rose 17.5p to 140p.

Separately, InterContinental Hotels, the old Bass hotels business, confirmed it was ending its relationship with Expedia, the online travel business owned by Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp. It alluded to Expedia's "confusing" marketing practices as it unveiled a new partnership with Travelocity, Expedia's arch rival, which is owned by Sabre.

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