pounds 10m Danish buy takes Airtours to Finland

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MAGNUS GRIMOND

Airtours, Britain's second-largest travel company, will dominate the package tour markets of Norway, Denmark and Sweden after yesterday acquiring Simon Spies Holding, a Danish rival. The British company is paying Dkr84m (pounds 10m) for Spies through its Scandinavian Leisure Group subsidiary and is also picking up three Airbus A300 aircraft, together with spares and a hangar at Copenhagen airport for a further pounds 50m.

Airtours said talks were continuing with US cruise group Carnival Corporation, which last month intimated its interest in taking a stake of up to 30 per cent in the British group.

Spies, a private company, has been operating with the support of its banks for the last two years having over-extended itself in aircraft leasing deals. Commenting on the deal yesterday, David Crossland, Airtours chairman, said: "Spies is a national institution in Denmark and under SLG's management we expect to be able to restore its fortunes to the levels experienced under the management of its founder, Simon Spies. Acquiring the leading tour operator in Denmark gives us a pre-eminent position in all three Scandinavian markets and extends our operations eastward into Finland."

The shares rose 6p to 433p yesterday.

The deal follows Airtours' pounds 74m acquisition of Scandinavian Leisure Group from SAS in 1994, which gave it the area's largest tour operator plus a cruise ship and a 50 per cent share of Premiair, a charter airline. The purchase of Spies is being made through SLG, which will raise its market share from 6 per cent to 46 per cent in Denmark, zero to 20 per cent in Finland, 49 per cent to 58 per cent in Norway and 38 per cent to 45 per cent in Sweden. The deal also brings with it the other half share in Premiair.

The business being acquired, which trades under the Spies and Tjaereborg brand names, carried 570,000 passengers in the year to December. Operating profits were Dkr5m (pounds 600,000) on turnover of Dkr2,100 (pounds 246m) last year..

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