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Thomas Cook Chief Says Greece, Spain Gaining in Tourism From Africa Unrest

Greece and Spain are the two main beneficiaries of a shift by holidaymakers away from Egypt and Tunisia, according to the head of Thomas Cook Group Plc, Europe’s second-largest tour operator.

The southern European countries are “clear winners” as customers seek to avoid northern Africa amid political unrest in the region, Thomas Cook Chief Executive Officer Manny Fontenla- Novoa said in an interview in London. Greek hoteliers have cut prices after last year’s economic contraction, while their Spanish counterparts are also offering better deals, he said.

Tourism in Greece has seen a “real comeback, especially after all the problems there last year,” the CEO said yesterday. In Spain, the Balearic Islands, particularly Majorca, have “benefited hugely,” he said.

Thomas Cook and larger rival TUI Travel Plc have scrapped trips this year from some European countries to Egypt and Tunisia and brought customers home early. Egypt accounts for about 7 percent of Thomas Cook’s annual profit, while Spain and Greece account for a much larger proportion, according to Wyn Ellis, an analyst at Numis Securities in London.

“Consumers are going to seek alternative destinations to Egypt, Tunisia and even Morocco, wanting to avoid any kind of risk,” said Ellis. “It won’t be easy for tour operators to shift holidays from north Africa to other markets without Spanish or Greek hoteliers raising prices.”

Thomas Cook has estimated that the cost of canceled trips to Egypt and Tunisia and of repatriating customers may cut second-quarter profit by about 20 million pounds ($33 million). The CEO said there may be some more expenses in the second half.

Oil Prices

Thomas Cook’s profitability is likely to improve this year, led by demand for holidays in Scandinavia and Germany, Fontenla- Novoa said. The company expects higher profit in the U.K., where it is prepared for “fragile” consumer confidence, he said.

The tour operator, which operates its own planes, is “well hedged” against the rise in oil prices this year, the CEO said.

Thomas Cook posted a full-year loss of 2.6 million pounds in the year ended Sept. 30 because of costs for assisting passengers stranded when a volcanic eruption led to the shutdown of European airspace. The shares have fallen 19 percent in the past year, more than TUI Travel’s 13 percent drop.

Thomas Cook expects to get a decision from U.K. competition authorities on the planned merger of its U.K. travel and foreign-exchange units with those of Co-operative Group Ltd. as soon as August, Fontenla-Novoa said. “I feel there’s an extremely strong case,” he said. “This deal will happen.”

Thomas Cook wants to “digest” acquisitions announced last year in Russia, Germany and the U.K. before seeking other combinations, the CEO said. The company may consider forming a joint venture in China in 2012, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Armorel Kenna in Milan at akenna@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at cperri@bloomberg.net

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