Belfast Telegraph

Fifty jobs threatened as Thomas Cook shuts eight shops

By Margaret Canning and Peter Cripps

Travel giant Thomas Cook has outlined new plans to close 200 stores - including eight in Northern Ireland which could see 50 jobs lost.

The 170-year-old group, which came close to collapse last month, racked up losses of almost £400m after a year in which the slump in consumer confidence and the Arab Spring wrecked demand for its package holidays.

It will close 200 loss-making stores over the next two years as their leases expire - 125 more than previously announced - after completing a recent merger with the Co-op's high street travel arm.

The company, which has 1,300 shops, confirmed that 661 staff in 115 stores have now been told of the closures.

Shutters are set to come down on two shops in Belfast - Thomas Cook in Donegall Square West and Co-op Travel in Yorkgate.

Co-op Travel shops will also close in Carrickfergus, Cookstown, Holywood and Lisburn.

Two Going Places - another Thomas Cook brand - will shut in Londonderry and Portadown.

The cull will be reduce the company's presence from 35 shops to 27 and leave it with a workforce of around 135 staff here.

A spokeswoman said it had now entered into a 90-day consultation with staff affected - including the 51 workers across the eight Northern Ireland branches.

Thomas Cook has set out a turnaround plan for the UK business, including focusing on fewer and better quality hotels and a drive for more online bookings.

But analysts said it faced another difficult year as the UK teetered on the edge of another recession.

Interim chief executive Sam Weihagen said: "There's no silver bullet to turning around the UK business but I'm confident that the measures will improve the profitability in years to come.

"Thomas Cook is a very strong brand in the UK and it has enormous possibilities to make sure it becomes a profitable business."

Thomas Cook was plunged into crisis last month after it went back to its lenders to ask for an additional £100m lifeline, sparking fears of a collapse.

It admitted there had been an "adverse impact" on bookings in the UK before it agreed a new package although it said demand had now largely recovered.

The group said it was encouraged by an 8% rise in bookings from UK customers for next summer, although winter season bookings were down.

£400m

Close to debt racked up by firm after year of slump in holiday bookings