By Rhys Jones
LONDON Feb 7 British travel groups TUI Travel
and Thomas Cook reported a big rise in
fixed-price holiday bookings as cash-strapped Europeans opt for
risk-free deals in a volatile economic climate.
TUI Travel, Europe's largest tour operator, said summer
bookings by Britons were up 9 percent and were 10 percent higher
from the Nordic countries.
"More people are booking all-inclusive holidays, which is
very attractive at the moment, given the strengthening of the
euro against the pound," Peter Long, chief executive of TUI,
which owns the Thomson and First Choice, said on Thursday.
Thomas Cook confirmed the trend. Bookings for summer 2013
from northern europe were up 17 percent on last year, with
continental Europe also higher, the group said in a statement.
Chief Executive Harriet Green said the company had seen good
demand for package holidays with Spain, Turkey and Greece
proving to be popular destinations.
Travel firms and airlines across Europe have seen bookings
fall over the last two years, hit by the euro zone debt crisis,
high fuel costs and turmoil in Greece, one of the continent's
main holiday destinations.
Thomas Cook, the world's oldest travel group, has issued a
string of profit warnings and has been forced to renegotiate
bank loans and make disposals to cut debt.
However, the 172-year-old firm said its turnaround plan was
on track after it reported reduced first quarter operating
losses and said it had cut costs and debts.
"This quarter we delivered the first quarterly improvement
in profits for two years," said Thomas Cook's Green said.
Since travel industry outsider Green took over as CEO last
May, the company has seen a steady improvement in its finances.
"The new management team has made a solid start. The real
test will come in future years, but in the meantime 2013 is
likely to remain a honeymoon period for new management," said
Peel Hunt analyst Nick Batram.
Thomas Cook shares rose 11.5 percent to 80 pence by 1036
GMT, while TUI's were up 1.3 percent higher 307 pence.
Some analysts say austerity measures across Europe will hold
back demand for leisure travel, with brokerage Morningstar
expecting TUI's tour package revenues to remain flat over the
next five years.