Thomas Cook UK boss Ian Ailles praised the company’s agents for their commitment as he hailed quarterly trading figures that suggest “we have stabilised the business”.
UK mainstream managing director Ailles said the company was better managing yield on sales this year than last and had bookings in line with capacity.
He told Travel Weekly: “I have been gobsmacked by the dedication and commitment of our agents. It makes you realise you have to do your best.”
Thomas Cook reported cumulative summer bookings in the UK mainstream market 9% down year on year, with a 4% improvement in average selling price, and sales in the UK just 1% down overall.
Ailles said: “We like to think we have stabilised the business and are starting to turn it around. But it’s a pretty tough consumer environment.”
On managing yield, he said: “Our tour operator business is all about not discounting too fast. If you pay people to manage a yield department, you don’t discount heavily on the high street. So there is more first-time pricing in head office and less discounting [in shops].
“Shop managers still have the ability to match offers, but they are not offering customers a deal before they sit down.”
The company’s performance in the UK appeared to surprise some, following unconfirmed reports of poor trading in January.
Rival Tui Travel appeared to rub salt in the wound on Tuesday when it reported outperforming the market last month. However, Ailles said: “The cumulative position is much more important. Tui Travel talked studiously about the month of January.”
He said the improvement in tour operator trading followed “some practical trimming” of capacity.
Ailles conceded the company’s difficulties at the end of last year had hurt sales through Thomas Cook shops, saying: “The Co-operative shops were in line with the market or even a bit better, but Cook took a bit of a hit.”
The company announced the closure of 115 shops in December, with 660 staff in consultation on redundancy. Ailles said it was still too early to say how many jobs would be lost, but insisted: “We are looking to redeploy as many people as possible. There are counter proposals on certain shops. We hope the number of redundancies will be significantly less than 660.”
He added: “We are doing the things we committed to: we said we would remove aircraft and we have; we said we would yield manage. We will keep doing what we do, selling the right thing, keeping the yield right. There is no silver bullet.”
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