First Choice on the acquisition trail in Europe

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The Independent Online

First Choice, the package holiday operator, will continue to look for acquisition opportunities in Europe to bolster its strategy of delivering at least 50 per cent of its profits from specialist holidays by 2003.

The group, which is the UK's fourth-biggest tour operator, added The Netherlands as its eighth European market yesterday by taking over Sunrise, a Dutch travel company. Peter Long, chief executive of First Choice, said: "We are looking at opportunities in southern Europe, especially in France, Spain and Italy ,where the market is still quite fragmented."

First Choice posted wider first-half losses to 30 April but said that "current trading is very strong", with summer bookings from Britain and Ireland up 13 per cent. The company's pre-tax loss before goodwill amortisation increased to £39.7m, from a loss of £32.4m. Sales rose to £899.1m, from a restated £619.4.

Mr Long said there will be a shortage of holidays by the middle of the summer season, so customers should not expect last-minute bargains. Bookings for winter are 26 per cent full.

The losses, in line with expectations, reflected increased costs from acquisitions during the past year in Europe and Canada, including Virgin Sun.

Its shares rose 1.5p to 155.5p.

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