The mergers and acquisitions ball is well and truly rolling in the global travel industry with moves being made for Thomas Cook, talk of Airtours eyeing a slice of tour operator LTU, Condor and Neckermann taking a fancy to British tour operator First Choice which it was reported yesterday had sold a 20 per cent stake to Royal Caribbean Cruises for $300 million.With the finalisation of the Preussag £1.8 billion bid for Thomson Travel Group not expected to be completed until late June - early July, Carlson Companies have made its intentions known that it would like to acquire Thomas Cook which is part of the JMC tour operator - the UK package holiday operator which the Preussag group has to off-load in order to meet European Union regulatory rules.It has been reported that Carlson would buy the controlling stake of Preussag, its joint venture partner in Thomas Cook, which has agreed to buy Thomson Travel. Preussag has stated it would sell its interest in Thomas Cook to allay competition concerns. Carlson CEO, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, confirmed the U.S.-based travel company is “enthusiastically exploring” its option to acquire 100 per cent of Thomas Cook. Industry sources said yesterday that JMC have welcomed the move away from Preussag's TUI tour operator, as both JMC and TUI share similar market strategies and, once independent of Germany's leading tour operator, JMC will be in a position to compete with TUI and the rest of the leading tour operators in the European travel market. Market analysts in London said yesterday that talk of a merger between Airtours and Germany's second largest tour operator Neckermann has been overshadowed by rumours of Condor Neckermann possibly looking to buy First Choice.

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