Belfast Telegraph

Thomas Cook holiday bookings plunge by 33%

By Jamie Grierson

Tour operator Thomas Cook has seen bookings plummet by almost 33% as the country's financial worries deter cash-strapped families.

According to a leisure industry monitor seen by the Financial Times, Thomas Cook saw bookings decline by as much as a third in the two weeks to January 13 - a key period for tour operators, when some 15% of summer bookings are taken.

The decline is more than double the industry average of a 15% drop and nearly three times the 11% fall at Thomson Holidays owner TUI Travel.

Thomas Cook, the UK's second biggest travel company, came close to collapse in November after dire trading forced it to turn to its banks for more financial help, prompting fears it was on the brink of collapse.

Some analysts have attributed the recent weak performance, which saw a 45% drop in online sales, to the damage the cash crisis caused to the company's reputation, as well as ongoing problems of low consumer confidence.

Wyn Ellis, analyst at Numis, told the FT: "The hoteliers are concerned about the outlook for Thomas Cook and, if you're a hotelier, who would you want to be a major supplier of customers - Thomas Cook or TUI?"

Thomas Cook's share price has plunged 91% in the last year as it issued a number of profit warnings and saw the exit of its chief executive, Manny Fontenla-Novoa.

The group, which has 1,300 shops, 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.

The company plans to sell £200 million of its assets over the next 18 months as part of its plans to take a chunk out of its debt mountain, which rose by 11% to £891 million in the year.

The group was plunged into crisis after it went back to its lenders to ask for an additional £100 million lifeline, sparking fears of a collapse, but later secured £200 million from its banks.

Thomas Cook reported in its delayed final results that its UK business saw its underlying profits fall 68% to £34.1 million in the year after its margins slipped to just 1% and disruption from the Arab Spring cost it some £15 million.

Belfast Telegraph