Outlook: Everyone loses face in battle of the tour operators

OTHER THAN Ian Clubb, chairman of First Choice, who correctly advised his shareholders to accept Kuoni's bird in the hand rather than wait for Airtours' two in the bush, nobody emerges with any credit from David Crossland's opportunistic attempt to acquire the competition.

Mr Crossland, chairman of Airtours, is made to look a prize chump for insisting at virtually every turn in the saga that he was 100 per cent certain of clearance. His competition lawyers, Slaughter and May, emerge even more red faced, first for letting Mr Crossland believe this naive nonsense, then for allowing him so liberally to peddle it to his City audience, and finally for missing the deadline for delivering Airtours' list of concessions to the European Commission.

Also on Mr Crossland's "highly experienced team" of competition advisers were Roger Davis, a former member of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, John Swift QC, sometimes labelled Britain's "top" competition lawyer, and Lexecon, described by Airtours with customary exaggeration as "a leading economics consultancy". Mr Crossland must begin to wonder what he pays these people for. Wishful thinking is one thing, but to miss the deadline?

Mr Crossland is not the only company boss to be feeling sore about his highly paid competition advisers. Round at Whitbread, David Thomas is still spitting blood at Clifford Chance for telling him his bid for Allied Domecq's pubs would sail through the competition authorities without obstruction. In the event, it was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Chief executives, it seems, would do better to read the press than fork out for such people.

Then there are Airtours' shareholders, led from the front by the luckless Phillips and Drew. Drooling at the mouth at the prospect of creating another FTSE 100 company, they sold the First Choice board down the river by rejecting its advise and holding out for the higher Airtours offer. It is no part of a shareholder's responsibility to decide the public interest aspects of a takeover battle, but by the same token it was not hard to see why Airtours was willing to pay such a premium; monopoly is scarce and therefore priceless. With First Choice shares now trading a quarter lower than the value of the alternative Kuoni bid, the last laugh is on them.

But perhaps the biggest chumps of them all are Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, and his competition minister, Kim Howells. Together they allowed Brussels to take control of a takeover that so clearly belonged to these shores that you begin to wonder why they are bothering to play at being ministers at all. Why not just let Brussels run the show?

The Competition Commission could scarcely have reached a different conclusion, but at least it would have been a more credible and transparent one. With Brussels there isn't even a published report to support Mario Monti's first big decision as Competition Commissioner, just a series of assertions and observations, which incidentally were leaked and bandied around ahead of the announcement with almost total disregard for the rules on dealing with price sensitive information.

Mr Byers should note that the French do not intend to make the same mistake. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, France's finance minister, has already made as plain as pikestaff that any decision on the merger between Carrefour and Promodes, a transaction that seems to raise many of the same "oligopoly" issues as the Airtours bid for First Choice, will be the exclusive preserve of La France.

So just in case you've got the bit between your teeth, Mr Monti, be assured that this defensive French response to the problem of growing competition in Europe is going to happen whether you like it or not.

Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
peopleActress tells men: 'It's your issue too'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam