TRAVEL group Minoan yesterday cleared a key milestone in its long-awaited plans to build a flagship hotel complex in Greece.
Greek authorities have confirmed that “The Project”, as Minoan refers to it, has finally been granted fast-track approval that will allow the company to apply for planning permission to build five hotels with more than 1,900 beds. The complex, in north-eastern Crete will also include a golf course,, spa and other amenities.
Minoan shares surged to a year-high on the news, breaking the 10p barrier for a gain of more than 12 per cent on the day.
The stock has nearly doubled in value since the start of the week as speculation mounted that an announcement was imminent.
In a statement to the Stock Exchange, Minoan chairman Christopher Egleton said the company would now make a “short review” before submitting its strategic environmental assessment (SEA). It is understood that the company could lodge its application within days.
“As I have stated previously, the approval of an SEA is the equivalent of the granting of outline planning consent and, as such, constitutes the key value crystallisation event,” Egleton said. “I am very pleased that we are moving ahead with making our submission.”
Citing Greek newspaper reports, investor discussion boards have been speculating since the beginning of this month that things were beginning to move forward in Crete. Headquartered in Glasgow since December 2011, Minoan’s history is intertwined with the Greek project, which has been 14 years in development.
The company is headed by Duncan Wilson, a veteran of the travel industry who took over as chief executive in 2009. In addition to doggedly pursuing the project in Greece, Wilson has also built up a UK-based travel agency network through a string of acquisitions.
His latest deal was completed last month, when Minoan agreed to take over Edinburgh-based music festival operator As You Like It Holidays. It is being consolidated with existing operations under the Stewart Travel brand bought by Minoan in March of last year.
The deal for As You Like It – worth up to £200,000 – was supported by a £5 million loan from Hillside International Holdings, an investment group based in Jersey.
About half of that money will be used to buy further travel and leisure businesses in the UK. The other half has been earmarked for planning application costs in Greece.
The group’s traditional winter losses widened to £903,000 in the first half of this year despite a 60 per cent increase in turnover to £19.8m. However, the UK-based travel business posted an increase in net pre-tax profits, which rose to £117,000 during the six months to April.