Special Report: The future of Thomas Cook is attracting new interest

Ian Taylor takes a closer look at the boss of the Turkish travel firm who took a stake in the travel group

Turkish tourism boss Neset Kockar took an 8% stake in Thomas Cook last week in a twist to the planned takeover of Cook by its banks and bondholders and Chinese group Fosun.

Thomas Cook confirmed Kockar, founder and chairman of Anex Tourism Group, had acquired a 6.7% stake on Wednesday of last week and within 24 hours he had increased his shareholding.

In a statement, Kockar said: “Thomas Cook is a well-established and highly respected competitor. We believe Thomas Cook has more value and potential than has been discussed recently. We are keen to explore potential strategic initiatives and engage with the relevant stakeholders.”

Anex Tourism Group includes tour operators Anex Tour in Russia, Ukraine and Germany, and Orex Travel in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, along with incoming agencies and hotels in Turkey and hotel management operations in Cyprus, Egypt, Thailand and Vietnam. It also owns charter carrier Azur Air in Russia and Azur Air Ukraine, an aircraft maintenance business and aviation broker.

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However, an attempt to expand Azur Air into Germany in 2017 proved loss-making and was wound up last September.

The group operates in 48 countries, has offices in 18 and employs 6,500. It handled about four million holidaymakers last year.

Thomas Cook announced last month that it is moving toward a £750 million takeover by Fosun and its banks, which needs to be sealed by September.

Cook’s creditors would take control of its airline, along with a minority stake in the tour operator business, in a debt-for-equity swap.

Fosun would acquire control of the travel group but take a minority holding in the airline. The deal would mean a separation of the business but avoid it being broken up.

More: Fosun – what you need to know

Why Thomas Cook will not be broken up after planned Fosun takeover

Chinese group would retain Thomas Cook name

Thomas Cook’s share price rose following Kockar’s purchase although the increase was nominal, leading at least one analyst to suggest it made no sense as the shares’ value would be wiped out by the Fosun takeover.

However, Kockar won’t see the stake as a financial investment. His interests in Turkey and Russia are what drive it.

Thomas Cook is the biggest operator to Turkey and has significant interests in Russia. It co-owns Russian inbound operator Intourist and took co-ownership of Russia’s leading tour operator Biblio Globus in May.

In its half-year results in May, Cook noted: “We have secured a leading position in the Russian market.”

Kockar will hope to partner Fosun and the restructured Cook and protect his investments in Turkey and Russia. In previous acquisitions, Fosun has partnered investors to spread the risk and extend its business – including a Brazilian investor in its takeover of Club Med in 2015, for example. The Anex Tourism boss may already be in talks with Fosun and Thomas Cook.

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