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Thomas Cook, AAA Plan Leisure Travel Alliance

Mergers: Network would seek new technological advances at offices serving 54 million customers worldwide.

September 10, 1996|From Times Wire Services

Thomas Cook, a global travel and financial group that sold its U.S. travel agencies two years ago to American Express, hopes to return to the market by teaming with the American Automobile Assn. to form one of the world's largest leisure travel alliances.

The deal announced Monday would combine operations at Thomas Cook's 1,800 worldwide offices with AAA's 1,000 travel agencies as of Jan. 1. The combined customer base is estimated at more than 54 million leisure travelers.

Financial terms weren't disclosed. U.S. regulators must approve the linkup, which involves no exchange of equity.

"We will be working closely with AAA to break new ground in the development of technology applications, as well as leveraging our strengths in areas such as foreign exchange and publishing," said Mark McCafferty, managing director of worldwide travel-related businesses for Thomas Cook.

Under the alliance, which is scheduled to become fully operational Jan. 1, leisure travelers who make international travel arrangements through AAA would have access to Thomas Cook's worldwide services. AAA would reciprocate with services to Thomas Cook customers in the United States.

"Both sides will retain separate identities, but will coordinate certain services, such as booking air travel, lodging and ground transportation," said Stephen Hayes, a spokesman for not-for-profit AAA.

The network would offer free airline reservation changes, ticket revalidation or rerouting, hotel and car rental reservations, changes to travel arrangements, travel planning and emergency local telephone assistance.

The alliance would focus aggressively on the development and implementation of new travel-related technology applications and electronic distribution channels.

The first joint technology project would begin in January when AAA joins the Catalist Trading Exchange, an electronic leisure-travel booking system developed by Thomas Cook. Catalist allows travel counselors to electronically create customized vacations for independent or group travel to destinations worldwide.

Future initiatives would include negotiations with multinational suppliers and cooperative ventures in the foreign exchange and publishing arenas.

AAA is a federation of 106 motor clubs providing its 39 million members in the United States and Canada with travel, financial, insurance and automotive-related services.

Thomas Cook employs more than 12,000 people who serve about 20 million customers a year in financial services and travel-related businesses. Thomas Cook is owned by Westdeutsche Landesbank, one of Germany's largest banks.

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