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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Lastminute nets French rival
Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox
All smiles: Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox
Internet retail firm has moved into the takeover business, buying France's biggest e-travel company., which has grown through partnerships since being launched on the internet in October 1998, announced on Monday that it paid 98m euros (58.9m) for Degriftour.

The British web venture had already launched a web site aimed at the French market, but said the deal would allow it to achieve now what would have taken it two to three years without the help of Degriftour's market reach.

"Degriftour is a fantastic fit for," Brent Hoberman,'s chief executive, told BBC News Online. "Five companies a week approach us, but because of our unique business model, it is rare to get a company that fits as well." believes it now rates as Europe's largest homegrown e-commerce site. Only and eBay boast a bigger share of the continent's online trade.

Established site

Degriftour boasts a 50% share of the online market in France, organising more than one million flights since it was launched in 1991.

Unlike, Degriftour also operates at a profit. reported widening losses of 9.3m for the three months to 30 June compared to 1.1m during the same quarter in 1999.

But many City analysts believe the deal will allow to move into the black within six to 12 months, rather than the 2003 break even point forecast earlier.

Shares in, which sells online tickets for holidays and other leisure activities, were unchanged at 161.5p in early afternoon trading.

Expansion through tie-ups has until now expanded through partnerships with other leisure companies. The latest deal, announced on 1 August, saw the firm gain access to more than 800 restaurants in the US through a tie-up with San Francisco-based

But Mr Hoberman did not rule out further takeovers. "It is a rare company that offers this fit," he told BBC News Online.

"That is not to say there are not other rare companies. But at the moment Degriftour is all on the acquisition front to talk about."

The deal will boost's European expansion already bolstered by the launch of French, German and Swedish subsidiary sites.

End of the brand

It will also see subsume the Degriftour brand by 2010. "We will continue with both brands at the moment. But Degriftour will be phased out probably in about 10 years," Mr Hoberman said.

Degriftour, which had received many approaches, was impressed by the breadth of's services, Mr Hoberman said. "The Degriftour brand was well known in France, but was not easily extendable across Europe."

The deal will place Pierre Alzon, Degriftour's general manager, on the board of Francis Reverse, Degriftour's founder, will not be part of the merged group.

"Mr Reverse has not played an active role at Degriftour for some time," Mr Hoberman said.

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