Worldchoice leaders will recommend one of two proposals for a buyout next week, with the board appearing close to a deal with Stella Travel Services.
But the travel agent consortium is still considering a counter offer from the Travel Trust Association.
Stella took over Global Travel Group – and its prolonged merger talks with Worldchoice – on January 1. However, the Australian-owned Stella Group is now the subject of takeover bid in its home market where parent investment company MFS has hit problems.
The share price of MFS collapsed last week after a rival finance company withdrew from takeover talks amid concerns about debt.
However, Stella Travel Services UK managing director Andrew Laurie dismissed concerns about its future. “MFS has been open about its intention to sell Stella,” he said. “It will have no impact on the UK business. Stella is financed and run independently.”
Stella describes itself as vertically integrated, but operates differently from groups such as TUI Travel and Thomas Cook. Laurie has reassured Worldchoice that the Stella model suits an independent consortium.
He said: “Our model is to support independent agents. We have 3,500 agents associated with us worldwide and 3,425 are independent.”
The exception is Harvey World Travel in the UK, which Stella owns. “All the others are members of consortia or groups,” said Laurie. “We don’t have our own aircraft or a mass of capacity to fill. There is no product agents are obliged to sell.”
The Worldchoice board has held meetings with both bidders. TTA leaders presented modified proposals last week and are now awaiting a response.
TTA director Todd Carpenter said: “I’m still optimistic. The uncertainty about Stella’s ownership does not hurt our case. But if there is no deal we have other retail targets.”
Worldchoice chairman Colin Heal said: “We are in close discussions and will make a decision before the end of January. Shareholders will be told in due course.”
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