* Posts better-than-expected H1 loss of 298 mln stg
* Summer holiday sales volumes slightly down
* CEO says confident on operating profit growth target
* Shares down 2.3 pct
(Adds CEO comments, analyst reaction, shares)
By Paul Sandle
LONDON, May 13 TUI Travel, Europe's
biggest tour operator by revenues, reported a dip in the number
of holidays sold for this summer, as the slow pace of economic
recovery in much of the region offset a resurgence in the
popularity of travelling to Greece.
The owner of holiday brands Thomson and First Choice said on
Tuesday the number of customers for its mainstream summer
holidays were down 2 percent on last year, with trading
particularly tough in France and Nordic countries.
But that was offset by a rise in the average price of
holidays sold and the group stuck to its target to grow
underlying operating profit by 7-10 percent this financial year
at constant exchange rates.
While that forecast was "reassuring", Numis analysts
described it overall as a "marginally disappointing update given
improving consumer confidence in the UK".
At 0950 GMT, TUI Travel shares were down 2.3 percent at
431.35 pence, the second-biggest fall on Britain's benchmark
Chief Executive Peter Long said TUI Travel had seen a "huge
resurgence" in demand for holidays to Greece as the country
stabilises following its debt crisis and international bailout.
Spain's Balearic Islands and Canary Islands, as well as
Turkey, were popular too, while further afield, Jamaica was also
attracting more holidaymakers, he added.
However, trading was tough in Nordic countries and in
France, with a breakeven in the latter country now more likely
in 2016 than next year, Long said.
Bookings were also flat in Germany, TUI Travel's biggest
market, as growth in package holiday sales was offset by a
planned reduction in the number of airline seats sold separately
from a tour package.
The company posted a first-half operating loss of 298
million pounds ($503 million), worse than the 289 million loss
reported in the same period the year before due to the timing of
Easter, but better than analysts' expectations.
Morgan Stanley analysts had forecast a loss of 305 million
pounds and Deutsche Bank analysts a loss of 315 million.
Like most tour operators and airlines, TUI makes losses over
winter when fewer Europeans take holidays.
TUI Travel is 55 percent owned by German travel and tourism
group TUI AG. Rival operator Thomas Cook is
due to report first-half results on Thursday.
($1 = 0.5927 British Pounds)
(Editing by Sarah Young and Mark Potter)