INDIGO Holidays chief executive Todd Carpenter has
called on ailing travel companies to speak up about their financial
problems amid claims he could have saved Travelscene a month before
it collapsed.

A week before the plug was pulled, Carpenter looked at
Travelscene with International Rescue, a management consultancy
firm which specialises in reviving companies in financial
difficulty.

Potential buyers over the past six months are thought to have
included Hoseasons, Amadeus-owned Opodo, Ebookers, the Co-operative
Group and venture capitalist firm Travel Capital.

“Companies such as Travelscene do not just go under in a couple
of days,” said Carpenter, who bought US specialist Getaway last
month.

“The problems start appearing much further back and companies
need to be alert to difficulties straight away and either address
the issues or ask for help.”

In 2000, Travelscene had a turnover of £24 million and a
profit of £445,000. However, in 2001 turnover had dropped to
£23.6 million with profits halved to £281,000. By 2003,
turnover was down to £22.5 million and losses had risen to
£573,730 (see box below).

It’s thought £1.5 million would have been needed to
renew Travelscene’s licence and provide cash funding going
forward.

Carpenter also slated Travelscene’s high staff costs which
resulted in a £2.3 million bill in 2003.

“A total of 50% of Travelscene’s margin was being
swallowed up by staff costs,” said Carpenter.

He appealed to all travel companies experiencing financial
problems to “act before it is too late”.

“The industry should learn the lesson of Travelscene and prevent
this kind of catastrophe taking place again.”

Hoseasons chief executive Richard Carrick declined to comment on
Hoseasons’ interest, but added: “Travelscene has been loyal
to the trade over the years, almost to a fault. If it hadn’t
been so loyal it could have still been in business today.”

Ebookers and Opodo both refused to comment.

Travel Capital chief executive Gerry Samuels said: “One of the
areas we are looking at

is acquiring specialist tour operators and we have looked at a
number.”

Ex-Travelscene sales director John Harding refused to comment,
while former chairman Jo Monfort was unavailable as Travel Weekly
went to press.