Swine flu hits Thomas Cook

TOUR operator Thomas Cook yesterday admitted it would miss its operating profit target, compounding the gloom in the leisure sector.<br /><br />The group, in which insolvent German retailer Arcandor still holds a 53 percent stake, said it would fall short of its hopes of achieving operating profit of &pound;480m in 2010.<br /><br />Chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa said the 2010 target had been set as an &ldquo;aspiration&rdquo; at the time of the group&rsquo;s formation prior to the economic downturn following a tie-up of Arcandor&rsquo;s travel unit and Britain&rsquo;s MyTravel in 2007.<br /><br />&ldquo;That was put out there at the time we merged the businesses when there was no recession and the pound was much stronger against the euro and the dollar,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />The group yesterday said that the effects from the swine flu pandemic had cost the business &pound;12.6m after holidaymakers cancelled trips.<br /><br />The group said yesterday reported a loss from operations before exceptional items and swine flu nine months to June 2009 of &pound;49.5m<br /><br />Fontenla-Novoa added, however, the company was confident of meeting market expectations for operating profit in 2010, which were significantly lower than the company&rsquo;s own target. He also reiterated the company&rsquo;s expectations of meeting 2009 forecasts.<br /><br />The group yesterday said that while UK bookings to date were down 11 per cent, in line with capacity cuts, average selling prices were up 8 per cent.<br /><br />Charles Stanley analyst Sam Hart said: &ldquo;The shift towards later bookings is expected to persist, with consumers reluctant to book holidays months in advance due to uncertain employment prospects.&rdquo;