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Thomas Cook sees summer holiday bookings rise

Thomas Cook said around half of its summer programme was already sold as the roll out of a range of "concept hotels" proves a hit with holidaymakers.

The tour operator said bookings at its burgeoning range of more personalised and exclusive hotels run by the group were 49% higher than a year earlier.

Demand for summer breaks has picked up since its first quarter, with the proportion of its programme sold slightly higher than at this time last year.

UK summer bookings are up 3% against a 1% cut in capacity, although it said average UK selling prices were 2% lower partly as a result of a trend for customers to take shorter holidays.

Its 2013/14 winter programme was hit by the political turmoil in Egypt - a popular winter sun destination - with group-wide bookings 4% lower.

The group said its programme was 93% sold after reducing capacity by 5%, but saw average selling prices fall 3% in its UK business due to an increase in one-week holiday bookings and amid competitive pricing for alternative destinations to Egypt.

UK bookings fell 2%, but were 2% higher with the impact of Egypt stripped out.

Thomas Cook said it was offsetting lower average selling prices thanks to cost cutting efforts under a major overhaul being led by chief executive Harriet Green.

It is half way through a three-year plan to drive savings and return the group to profit.

In November, Ms Green outlined plans for a further wave of cost reductions, having already slashed its network of UK travel agencies from more than 1,100 to 874, leading to about 2,500 job losses.

The group said the plans were delivering savings ahead of schedule and should help profit margins increase more than selling prices over the full-year.

Ms Green said: "The continuing transformation of Thomas Cook, including the delivery of our strategic targets, remains our top priority."

She added the group would provide a full update on its cost cutting programme at half-year results on May 15.

The first year of the company's turnaround saw losses reduced to £207 million in the year to September 30, from £590 million the previous year.

It also recently completed the sale of its interest in The Airline Group, a shareholder in UK air traffic controller NATS, which means the company has met its target to offload non-core businesses about 18 months ahead of schedule.

Greg Johnson, analyst at Shore Capital Stockbrokers, said: "Thomas Cook has issued a resilient update with summer bookings showing an improving trend since the first quarter update."

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