Thomas Cook has dismissed reports that it is “reeling from a slump” and “a 33% decline in bookings in January”, and has won backing from a senior analyst.
In a widely copied and potentially damaging article, the Financial Times reported: “Thomas Cook is reeling from a slump of as much as a third in summer package holiday bookings during the first half of January, which threatens to create new cash flow problems.”
The report referred to figures taken from a “leisure travel monitor shared by tour operators to track bookings”. It suggested industry bookings as a whole were 15% down year on year in the two weeks to Friday January 13, but that Thomas Cook suffered a 33% decline in bookings in this period - “three times as bad as rival Tui Travel”.
Industry analyst GfK Ascent, which produces a leisure travel monitor for the sector, insisted it was not the source of the figures. GfK Ascent pointed out it records figures weekly from Sunday to Saturday.
A GfK Ascent spokesman said: “The figures are not from us. We don’t know where these have come from.”
The Financial Times also reported: “Thomas Cook’s online sales have fallen 45%.” GfK Ascent said: “Our data does not show online data on its own.”
A spokeswoman for Thomas Cook pointed out: “The FT data relates to UK bookings for summer 2012. The reported figure is not a cumulative bookings position. Currently we are better loaded than the prior year (at +3%) as a result of capacity reductions.”
She added that the reported figures refer to less than a fortnight’s bookings in a single market for a single season. Thomas Cook made 90% of its operating profit outside the UK in the 12 months to September.
The spokeswoman added: “We last reported UK bookings on December 14. This showed we were going into January with a decent mainstream order book well ahead of the market at +8%.
“However, as we explained at the time, we had cut our summer 2012 capacity [by] -8%. We were expecting our intake to be well down in January (as) we would be managing bookings down towards capacity, focusing on margin rather than volume.”
In a note to investors, analyst Douglas McNeill of Charles Stanley Securities said: “It would be unwise to place too much emphasis on a snapshot of trading over a very short period of time. Nor does this data square very well with the notion that customers are fretting about Thomas Cook’s solvency, given that its December bookings were relatively strong.”
Thomas Cook is due to give a market update on February 8 at the time of its annual general meeting.
One industry source told Travel Weekly: “It looks like someone is out to do harm to Thomas Cook.”
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