Kuoni chief quits over First Choice row

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The Independent Online

Andreas Schmid resigned as chairman from the upmarket Swiss travel group Kuoni with immediate effect yesterday after a boardroom dispute over his failed attempt to tie up with the UK travel agents, First Choice, earlier this year.

The company, which is due to report first-half results today, named the board member Henning Boysen as its new chairman.

"There have been intense discussions inside the board of directors and group management over strategic questions as well as management structure," Mr Schmid said.

"After the discussions today between the board of directors and group management, it is clear that a majority of the board of directors has a different view of the situation than I do."

Mr Schmid is believed to have tried to revive plans for a tie-up between Kuoni, the seventh largest tour group in Europe, and First Choice, which ranks as number three. The two have long been seen as complementary, with Kuoni focussing on long-haul destinations such as Asia, while First Choice appeals to a broader, mid-market clientele. However, an earlier merger attempt in 1999 was rejected by shareholders.

News of a new attempt at a deal emerged last month, but the scheme is believed to have angered Kuoni's management, including the chief executive, Armin Meier, who was not informed of the talks at an early stage.

Kuoni is expected to unveil a Sfr3.9m (£1.7m) profit for the first half of 2006 after a loss of Sfr7.4m a year ago, according to the median of figures from 10 analysts polled by Reuters.

Kuoni shares closed down 1.3 per cent at Sfr624.50 yesterday after rising more than 16 per cent so far this year.