Trio of buyers rescues Thomas Cook's Nordic business

STOCKHOLM/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Norwegian property tycoon Petter Stordalen and private equity firms Altor and TDR Capital [TDRCSD.UL] have agreed to buy the Nordic business of collapsed British travel company Thomas Cook.

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The profitable Thomas Cook Northern Europe, also known as the Ving Group, has been looking for a buyer since Thomas Cook’s liquidation in September and this week said it had attracted several bids.

The buyers said in a joint statement they had agreed a financial reconstruction package for the business that would provide about 6 billion Swedish crowns ($618 million) in liquid funds and guarantees.

Stordalen’s Strawberry Group and Altor will each take a 40% stake in the new group, and TDR Capital the remaining 20%.

“Competition was rock hard to get in here, but we were the only group to work on a reconstruction that would secure one solution for all,” billionaire investor Stordalen said in a presentation for media and Ving Group staff on Wednesday, drawing cheers from the employees.

Ving Group, which employs about 2,300 people, owns Nordic travel agencies Ving, Globetrotter, Spies, Tjareborg, carrier Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia and a number of hotel brands.

“It has been a very complex deal and has happened very fast,” Ving Group CEO Magnus Wikner told media and staff.

“For us it was incredibly important to find an owner that has the strategic competence and financial strength to become a good, long-term owner for us.”

Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel firm, went bankrupt when it couldn’t service its debts and banks would not back a rescue plan in the face of changing customer habits and intense competition from low-cost airlines and online-only rivals.

The collapse stranded over 100,000 travellers worldwide and sparked a scramble for survival among many of its subsidiaries.

Ving Group, however, last year made an operating profit of 1.4 billion crowns. “Ving has always been a solid company,” Stordalen said. “The truth is, Ving did everything right. Thomas Cook did everything wrong”.

Reporting by Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm and Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen; Editing by David Goodman, Niklas Pollard and Louise Heavens