THE co-founders of a luxury holiday firm have hit the jackpot after selling the firm to Thomas Cook for £25m.

Geoff Moss and Barbara Catchpole created a Chester success story after setting up Elegant Resorts 20 years-ago which today employs 170 people.

And the firm, whose clientele includes celebrities and Premiership footballers, is likely to go from strength to strength now that it has access to the travel giant’s network of more than 800 outlets.

Geoff and Barbara decided to cash-in now to avoid paying the higher capital gains tax rate which came in on Sunday with the deal completed last Thursday.

Geoff, who will remain on the board as deputy chairman and as a non-executive director, said: “Money is not the end of the world. It’s better to have your health and happiness. I guess it’s the reward for creating something that we both enjoy and which is the number one market leader in the UK.”

Geoff, who lives near Chester, will work part-time in the business and hopes to spend more time on the golf course and at Wrexham FC, where he is co-owner. Barbara, who escaped with cuts and bruises after plunging 640ft from a mountain in Peru in 2006, is staying on as a consultant.

Based at The Old Palace, overlooking the Dee, Elegant Resorts, will continue to operate as a stand-alone business with the same management team and staff.

Geoff said customers would struggle to notice the difference between Elegant Resorts now and in future.

“As long as we maintain the quality of service I don’t see why anybody should be put off,” said Geoff, whose company offers destinations including the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf and is even taking bookings for the first commercial space flights.

Established in 1988, Elegant Resorts carries 23,000 passengers a year and has a turnover of £65m. The average spend is more than £10,000. And the company was proud to have organised Steven Gerrard’s honeymoon.

Asked if the Chester workforce was likely to expand, Geoff, who was the major shareholder, said: “That would be revealing plans but I think the answer would be yes.”

He said Elegant Resorts may be able to develop a four-star brand for Thomas Cook to run alongside the Chester firm’s existing five and six-star premium service.

Thomas Cook chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa said: “We are delighted to have secured this acquisition, which allows Thomas Cook to further enhance its position in this lucrative and growing segment of the leisure travel market.”