Europe's second largest travel firm, Thomas Cook AG, this week forecast a rebound in global travel by the end of this year and said it sees its own profits stable in 2002, aided by cost-cutting initiated after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Thomas Cook Chairman and Chief Executive Stefan Pichler said he believes the German firm's summer and 2002 year bookings in Europe will be down from last year even as demand creeps back. “We will not have an outstanding year 2002, but...we might end up slightly below 2001 in terms of booked guests,” Pichler said. “I am quite optimistic with the beginning of the winter 2002-2003 we will have strong signs of recovery, strong bookings,” he said. Thomas Cook, jointly owned by German airline Lufthansa and retail group KarstadtQuelle, owns tour groups, low-cost airlines, and hotels, and has operations throughout Europe, India, North America and Egypt. Thomas Cook holds about 30 percent of the market share for packaged travel in Europe. Rival Preussag, Europe's largest travel firm and owner of Thomson Travel and Lunn Poly Shops, controls about 33 percent of the package vacation market. Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Oberursel, Germany-based travel firm started a cost reduction program and cut airline capacity to counter weaker demand and offset high insurance and security costs. Thomas Cook slashed about 2'600 jobs and closed some travel agencies as bookings dropped sharply in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Pichler said the company does not see further capacity reductions, but maintains a flexible approach to manage any changes in the market. Thomas Cook would have a clearer picture of summer bookings and summer capacity by mid-February, he said. “As we have seen in the aftermath of Sept. 11 with more focus on some destinations like Spain, we see now the spread of destinations coming back again, which is a good sign of recovery,” Pichler said. Pichler dismissed suggestions that Lufthansa might float its ownership of the travel group, noting that Thomas Cook benefits from leveraging its aircraft operations with the flagship carrier. “We are quite happy with this shareholder structure. It works very smoothly,” he said. Pichler also said consolidation within the European travel industry has ended for now. He expects the next phase to be globalization as operators expand into emerging Asian markets, such as India and China, and Western markets. He did not specify which regions Thomas Cook might target.


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