Ebookers ponders London listing to raise profile with UK investors

Ebookers.com, Europe`s biggest online travel firm, is considering seeking a London listing to raise the company`s profile in the UK.
Dinesh Dhamija, the chairman and chief executive, has become increasingly frustrated at the lack of investor interest in his company compared to its less successful rivals, such as lastminute.com. According to industry estimates, Ebookers had 2000 revenues of $200m, (£138m), while lastminute had sales of $116m following its acquisition of France`s Dégriftour. Expedia`s UK arm had gross bookings of $87m.
The listing, which would not involve raising new funds, is expected to take place within months. If the plan goes ahead, Ebookers would retain its existing quotations on the Nasdaq in the United States and on Germany`s Neuer Markt. The total cost of the proposed London listing is estimated at $1m.
Separately, Ebookers is also examining opportunities for further European expansion. The group, which is already present in 11 countries, is conducting due diligence on another company based on the Continent.
Mr Dhamija told The Independent: “The industry is consolidating. We need to buy three or four companies.” One obvious gap in the internet firm`s geographical reach is Italy.
Ebookers focuses on independent leisure travel, but would consider boosting its presence in the business travel sector by buying up an existing rival. Last October, the group accelerated the consolidation of offline and online companies in Europe by paying $15m to acquire the Flightbookers travel agency, its bricks-and-mortar parent.
Ebookers is due to report its fourth-quarter results later this month. At the end of the group`s third quarter, it had net cash reserves of $51m. Mr Dhamija said the company was on track to meet its scheduled break-even date of either the fourth quarter this year or first quarter 2002.
Ebookers floated on Wall Street in November 1999 at $18 a share. The stock rose as high as $43 at the Nasdaq`s peak in March 2000. On Friday, with the index off 5 per cent on the day, shares in the company closed 1.7 per cent lower at $3.625.
Mr Dhamija and his family own 67.4 per cent of Ebookers, and its managers hold nearly 10 per cent. By 2004, the online travel market is forecast to be worth 32bn euros (£20bn).
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