A hotel booking website set up in 2003 was yesterday snapped up by holidays giant Thomas Cook in a deal worth s21.8 million.
Egham-based Hotels4U.com supplies accommodation to the British travel industry and acts as an online booking agent for hotels, apartments and villas.
Managing director Haim Perry, who founded Hotels4U, will remain with the business having agreed to reinvest some of the sale proceeds.
Thomas Cook said the deal boosted its position in the independent travel sector, while it also strengthened its mainstream business.
Hotels4U features more than 30,000 properties and provides accommodation and resort transfers for more than 500,000 customers a year.
Mr Perry said: "As a business we now have access to the international markets that Thomas Cook is present in and therefore the opportunity for further growth."
Thomas Cook chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa said: "This is an acquisition that fits perfectly with our strategy of enhancing Thomas Cook's position in the independent travel sector and will also further strengthen our mainstream business."
Thomas Cook also said that trading continued to be positive, with encouraging levels of demand this winter and for the summer season.
The update was in line with comments made at the end of January, when it insisted that consumers were showing no sign of cutting back on foreign trips.
Despite the economic downturn, it said it believed European consumers continued to place a "high priority" on overseas holidays.
Thomas Cook was formed from the merger with Airtours rival MyTravel last year.
It said cost savings from the deal and improved margins meant its operating losses for the two months to the end of December reduced by 27 per cent to 106.8 million euros (s79.4 million). The result was in line with expectations and reflected the seasonality of the company's business.
The enlarged company has closed 144 shops in the UK, leaving an estate of 812 - mostly Thomas Cook - stores. The company's UK headquarters have also been established in Peterborough after a number of offices were closed in a rationalisation programme.
Thomas Cook has become the company's lead brand, supported by Airtours in the mass market segment, alongside specialist brands such as Thomas Cook Signature, Cresta, Tradewinds, Nielsen and Club 18-30.
The group reiterated that it expected synergies of at least s148 million following the merger.
It said significant year-on-year improvements were seen in the UK and Continental Europe.