Comment: Thomas Cook flies past terrorist jitters

Martin Flanagan
Martin Flanagan
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Thomas Cook has posted its first annual bottom line profit in five years, an impressive achievement given the holidays giant took a £130 million sales hit from the beach and hotel terrorist carnage in Tunisia in June as the height of the holiday season was approaching.

Since the group’s financial year‑end in September we have also had the flight suspensions to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, after the downing of a Russian plane, and the multiple attacks in Paris, so it is clear the trading challenges have not softened. The shooting down of a Russia military jet by Turkey on Tuesday has additionally sharply ratcheted up geo-political jitters that will also test consumer sentiment.

Even so, Thomas Cook said trading in its new financial year has got off to a good start, with strong winter 2015-16 trading in the UK (up 8 per cent) and northern Europe (up 1 per cent).

It is remarkable how quickly consumer sentiment recovers from shocks to the system for the holidays industry. Terrorist outrages virtually always trigger a falloff in holidays to the affected region, and perhaps countries that are close by.

But holidaymakers usually just switch to perceived safer destinations, determined not to give up on their leisure treats completely. This means the major holiday players like Thomas Cook make up on the swings what they lose on the roundabouts.

The company said yesterday that customers have been switching from the Middle East and north Africa to destinations such as the Canary Islands and North America.

It doesn’t mean that sector earnings remain impervious to security issues. The Tunisian atrocity cost Thomas Cook £22m in underlying earnings.

But terrorism falls into the periodic headwinds category for the holiday industry, rather than any systemic change that many other sectors are facing.

The stock market is alive to this. Thomas Cook’s resilient numbers yesterday led to a sharp jump in the shares after losing 20 per cent since the attack on the Russian plane in Egypt in late October.

That rebound has also been helped by the group saying it plans to reinstate the dividend the year after next.