Thomas Cook gets Co-op OK

THE Competition Commission (CC) has cleared a merger between struggling Thomas Cook’s UK retail business and those of the Co-operative group and Midlands Co-operative Society, to create Britain’s biggest retail travel operation.

The deal will bring together three of the biggest travel agents on the British high street.

Thomas Cook currently has 780 stores, while the Co-op has 360 travel shops and the Midlands 100.

“The CC has concluded that the acquisition will not result in a substantial lessening of competition in any markets in the UK, in particular for customers buying package holidays from high street travel agents,” the Commission said.

Thomas Cook has issued three profit warnings in the past year, triggering the resignation of chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa.

The relatively strong performance of arch rival TUI has also piled on the pressure. The Co-op deal has been questioned by some analysts as the expansion comes at a time when disposable income has been squeezed.

Thomas Cook plans to conduct its tour operator business separately from the joint venture. The takeover was given the provisional go ahead last month.