The Association of Independent Tour Operators claimed its members’ business will be seriously damaged by the European Commission’s approval of the Thomas Cook/Carlson Leisure Group merger.

AITO chairman Paul Chandler said: “There is no doubt this EC ruling creates a barrier to growth for small operators and it moves the balance of power ever more firmly into the hands of the major operators.

“Not only will it make it difficult for our members to buy charter airline seats, but it will also affect channels of distribution. It will be harder to reach potential customers with our brochures.”

Chandler said he was especially concerned the pan-European merged company will control Caledonian Airways and Flying Colours Airlines and force AITO members to compete with European rival operators for air seats.

Chandler, who speaks for 160 operators, added AITO’s 2m customers faced reduced availability and increased costs. “The EC is ratifying lack of consumer choice,” he said.

“The problem of distorted competition was recognised by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission but ignored by Brussels.”