Thomas Cook has insisted it is confident about its peak booking strategy, despite claims that market data shows sales are down by about a third through its shops and 50% through its website.
According to sources, year-on-year data revealing the downturn was included in the latest Leisure Travel Monitor, the market intelligence service for the UK outbound holiday market.
At a media briefing on Tuesday, Cook bosses were asked about reports that sales through the shop network were 34% down and 50% down online.
Ian Ailles, Thomas Cook mainstream managing director, responded by saying: "We are confident we have the right products and prices in the market.
"That’s a year-on-year statistic. Perhaps last year we were not selling the right holidays at the right price. We are quite happy with our sales, which are running in line with where capacity is.
"We are focused on the right value, the right type of holiday and the right price, therefore trying to match the volume from last year is perhaps not the right thing to do."
Ailles also insisted web activity was in line with expectations following a short-term decline after the firm’s financial crisis at the end of last year. Cook said it did not recognise the 50% decrease in online sales.
"There was a short-term impact in November but we came out with our £170 off offer, which addressed that," said Ailles. "Our online visits and bookings are broadly where we anticipated they would be." Ailles said Cook had started using price monitoring technology that showed its prices were currently cheaper than rivals on 60% of what it sells.
At the briefing Ailles offered some hope to the 200 Thomas Cook stores earmarked for closure saying some could still be saved if their sales continued to improve. He said agents had reacted positively to a consultation on the planned closure programme, which ends in March, and that morale was high.
He said he had experienced a real buzz in stores he had visited. "We are seeing a great performance from the shops that are under consultation. What we are absolutely delighted with is that our Co-op stores are performing well," he said.
"Given what Thomas Cook has been through I was delighted with the shops and the feeling that they were really buzzing. The morale has been fantastic."
Ailles said the decision on shop closures was still not final, pointing to a closure programme involving 24 stores in September that saw a number of counter proposals. This resulted in three being saved and one, in Stirling, that went on to win an internal award for its performance.
Annual research conducted by Cook showed that an overseas holiday has returned to the top of consumers’ purchasing priorities for 2012 having fallen to second in last year’s poll.
However, customers were nervous and looking for reassurance that they were spending their money wisely, added Ailles. Cook has coined the term ‘savecation’ to show that the cost of a holiday abroad can be cheaper than a domestic holiday.
Customers are also shopping around more using a combination of internet, call centre and shops to find the cheapest deal.
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