Thomas Cook is looking to acquire in the UK to enable it to build its online business to rival the likes of Expedia in Europe.
Manny Fontenla-Novoa, chief executive of the Thomas Cook Group, told delegates at the ITT conference in Benidorm of the retailer’s ambition to become a top-three online travel agent within five years.
He said the move, driven from new offices near Soho in London, was not about shifting sales from the high street channel as had been the case in the past with its web development.
But he said Cook had spotted significant opportunities in Europe, where no one player dominates, as is the case in the US.
In the short term, Cook has signed a white-label deal with Expedia, which Fontenla-Novoa described as a “bridge” into the market.
But looking further ahead, he said Cook will develop its own technology solution, probably through acquisition of a company that already had a strong IT platform.
The Cook boss said the operator had the edge over the likes of Expedia in terms of access to beach product but that it needed to expand its portfolio in city hotels.
Cook has recently finalised a refinancing and some money from this will go towards acquisition and consolidation, both in the UK and other markets, particularly Germany.
A deal in Russia is expected to be completed within months and Cook will also look to Brazil where it had been interested in acquiring local tour operator CVC.
Fontenla-Novoa said this did not happen because Cook had been focused on other things at the time and the firm was bought by venture capitalists Carlyle Group for $250 million. But he said Brazil remained a market Cook intended to expand into.