TUI’s summer bookings put rival in shade

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Thomson Holidays owner TUI Travel capitalised on the woes at Thomas Cook yesterday by revealing that summer bookings outpaced the market during January.

Europe’s biggest tour operator said cumulative bookings in the UK as of January 29 were 7 per cent lower, but this compared with an 11 per cent decline as of November 29.

Meanwhile, bookings were flat in January alone, compared with a 14 per cent decline in the market as a whole.

However, weak demand for North African destinations, driven by the ongoing political turmoil in the region, saw operating losses in the three months to December 31 widen by 27 per cent to £109m.

The results come after reports suggest Thomas Cook suffered a 33 per cent decline in summer holiday sales in the first two weeks of 2012 as customers delayed their holiday plans amid uncertainty over the firm’s future prior to a £100m lifeline from its banks.

Thomas Cook will update on its own performance today, on the same day as its annual meeting, and may shine more light on the progress made in implementing its turnaround plan to focus on fewer and better quality hotels and a drive for more online bookings.

Thomas Cook rolled out a publicity drive after its troubles were exposed, with adverts in national newspapers reassuring customers that it was safe to book holidays despite fears of its coll- apse.

But TUI was quick to capitalise on its rival’s woes by publishing its own adverts saying: “Another holiday company may be experiencing turbulence, but we are in really great shape.”

TUI chief executive Peter Long said the performance reported today reflected the “trust” customers place in its brands.

TUI said sales were driven by demand for differentiated products – that is, holidays exclusively available through TUI – which now make up 64 per cent of UK bookings for the summer, up from 57 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, TUI’s plans to boost online bookings are progressing well, with 49 per cent of January bookings made for winter holidays coming through its website, compared with 39 per cent last year, while 42 per cent of summer bookings have been made online, compared with 36 per cent.