Ebookers takes off after bid approaches

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Ebookers Yesterday admitted it was in talks with several potential bidders keen to acquire the online travel group.

Ebookers Yesterday admitted it was in talks with several potential bidders keen to acquire the online travel group.

The news, which comes just weeks after the troubled long-haul flight specialist issued a profits warning, prompted its shares to soar by one quarter.

Ebookers said it had received a number of approaches, prompting it to "consider a possible sale of the company". It added: "Preliminary discussions are being held in this regard with several interested parties." Its shares rose 45.25p to 230p, valuing the group at about £150m.

Speculation centred on the three big US travel players - Interactive, which owns Expedia; Sabre, the company behind Travelocity; and Cendant, a travel conglomerate that owns Avis and Budget - who have long been touted as possible predators when it comes to the European online travel industry.

Although ebookers and lastminute.com have discussed merging in the past, lastminute is understood not to be interested this time. The online retailer, run by Brent Hoberman, has its own problems and has promised to concentrate on integrating previous acquisitions.

The fate of ebookers will rest with its chief executive, Dinesh Dhamija, whose family controls just over 40 per cent of its shares. The Dhamija family has been slowly loosening its ties with the business formerly known as Flightbookers that Dinesh co-founded with his wife, Tani, in the early 1980s. Tani stepped down from the board last year, and Dinesh recently agreed to separate his dual role of chairman and chief executive. He has two sons, neither of whom intend to follow him into the family business.

Robin Chhabra, an analyst at Evolution Beeson Gregory, said: "Consolidation has been waiting to happen. While there is massive growth in the industry, it hasn't translated into the profit most people expected because of high competition. In the online travel industry it is winner takes all."

Ebookers issued a profits warning in July after demand for long-haul flights collapsed in June. The company, which is retreating from the high street, is still heavily loss-making.

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