The Association of Independent Tour Operators is planning to refer Airtours’ takeover bid for First Choice to the Competition Commission and the European Commission after claiming such a move would further dent competition and consumer choice.

Deputy chairman John Bennett said: “We are extremely concerned at the strength of Airtours. With this acquisition it will become bigger than Thomson in the UK and the largest tour operator in Europe – possibly worldwide.”

“It also means that more than half the holiday market from the UK, around 12m passengers, will be in the hands of just two operators.”

Bennett also said he was concerned at Thomson’s reaction to the bid (see front page).