Down the plughole

Down the plughole

OPERATORS are bracing themselves for a peak-season bookings crisis which could cost them several million pounds of profit.

After an excellent June, industry experts were predicting a bumper summer '99, but the market has gone flat and major companies are struggling to shift capacity in the crucial six weeks in July and August - the period where operators make the bulk of their money. Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean are proving particularly difficult to sell, although Airtours and First Choice appear to be faring better than rivals.

Agents have blamed lack of confidence in the economy and the passport crisis for the slump in demand.

Operators are under pressure to keep prices high to get maximum profit but are then drastically reducing rates at the last minute to shift holidays.

Andrew Dickson, managing director of Bolton-based five-branch agency St Andrew's Travel, said: "Operators are charging in the mid £400s for a fortnight and the mid £300s for a week, around a fortnight from departure. Then a day before departure you can get a week's self-catering in the Canaries for £179 and Turkey for £149.

"My trays are brimming over with faxes from operators. Sunset and Sunworld have got some of the best offers."

For the last two weekends, Lunn Poly has offered £100 per couple off selected Thomson holidays.

Airtours marketing, sales and development director Ed Sims said: "We expected the eastern Med to bounce back but it hasn't happened. The beaches in Turkey are empty and there are some fantastic prices."

He predicted Turkey could lose 200,000 UK visitors unless the country stepped up promotion of the destination.

Thomas Cook's Sunworld, Sunset and Flying Colours operations are thought to have significant capacity left, but Sunworld sales director Dennis Wormwell said it had less to sell than rivals. He admitted last week's sales were down 5% on the same week last year and added it was now "white-knuckle time" for operators.

Cosmos sales and marketing director Paul Riches added: "The market is very flat. The next six weeks are critical."

Thomson and First Choice declined to comment.

n Cruising crisis, page 3

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