Belfast Telegraph

Thomas Cook to buy out partner Co-operative Travel in £55.8m deal

Holiday firm Thomas Cook is to buy out its high street travel agent partner in a move that will see the Co-operative Travel brand disappear from the high street.

Thomas Cook said it will take full ownership of the 764-strong network of travel branches, buying the Co-operative Group's 30% stake and Central England Co-operative's 3.5% stake for £55.8 million.

All stores will be rebranded as Thomas Cook stores over the next two years.

The deal brings to an end the partnership launched in October 2011 when Thomas Cook, the Co-operative Group and the then Midlands Co-operative, now Central England Co-operative, merged to create the UK's largest travel agent.

It follows a decision by the Co-op to take up its right to sell its stake, which was part of the original deal.

Thomas Cook Group chief executive Peter Fankhauser said: "This purchase gives us full control over our retail store network, enabling us to better integrate our stores with our online offering, while also helping us to focus on growing sales of added extras such as holiday-related financial services.

"Over the next two years, we will bring all of our UK stores under the Thomas Cook banner so we can make full use of the best brand in travel."

Thomas Cook will have the right to carry on using the Co-operative Travel brand until November 2018.

Rod Bulmer, chief executive of consumer services at the Co-op, said: "Going forward, having a minority stake in a travel business does not fit with the strategy of the Co-op."

The Co-op plans to invest the cash from the deal back in to the business.

The joint venture with the Co-op initially had more than 1,200 shops, but has since shrunk dramatically as Thomas Cook axed costs from the merged network and amid competition from online holiday rivals.

Co-operative Travel started life as a day excursion business in 1905.

Thomas Cook recently reported a 41% tumble in underlying profits on a like-for-like basis to £308 million as it said it suffered amid a "difficult year for tourism".

The industry has been hit by European terror attacks and political instability in once- popular sun-seeker destination Turkey.

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