Thomson boss Peter RothwellTHOMSON boss Peter Rothwell has ruled out his company’s involvement in consolidation of the big four as rumours hot up of a summer deal between Thomas Cook and First Choice.

Speculation First Choice’s mainstream holidays division will be sold to Thomas Cook rose this week after reports Thomas Cook had recruited City investment bank Citigroup to advise it on a £500 million bid. MyTravel revealed it was in talks with First Choice in December.

Rothwell admitted consolidation among rivals was likely. “The stage is set for four to go to three but we don’t see ourselves as players in the consolidation. There is not much other people have that we don’t already have. To merge with anyone else would cause as many problems as it would opportunities.”

Rothwell’s comments effectively leave the way clear for a two-way fight between Thomas Cook and MyTravel.

Analysts said Thomas Cook and First Choice was the “natural deal”. One hinted it may not be a conventional takeover and would probably happen this summer, with the chance of a MyTravel acquisition “just 5%”.

“The real question is what exact deal and structure they [Thomas Cook] put together and how they fund it,” he said.

The rumours of a Thomas Cook deal also increased following news its German parent changed ownership last month, barely a week after UK chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa was named group chief executive and chairman.

German retail giant KarstadtQuelle, which jointly owned the group with Lufthansa, bought out the airline’s 50% stake for €800 million.