STAFF REPORTER LONDON/PALMA

BRITISH tour operator Thomas Cook confirmed yesterday that bookings in the United Kingdom for holidays in the Balearic Islands have grown by 30 percent in the past four weeks due to political disturbances in Egypt and Tunisia.

The group's Managing Director, Manny Fontenla-Novoa, said that Spain and in particular the Balearic and the Canary Islands are the holiday destinations most benefiting from the troubles in North Africa. Greece is apparently next in line where Thomas Cook have reported bookings being up by 20 percent.

The tour operator furthered that business worth around 20 million pounds (23.6 million euros) is heading towards other holiday destinations in the second quarter of the year as a direct result of the strife in Egypt and Tunisia. “Journeys to North Africa are being largely restricted,” said Fontenla-Novoa. “Only the British who have booked holidays in the Red Sea area of Egypt will not be affected.”

In fact, bookings from the United Kingdom this winter season had fallen by 4 percent prior to the onset of the troubles due to the fact that airport taxes in Egypt had been disproportionately increased, said the tour operator. Thomas cook, who sends a million tourists to Egypt every year, said that contingency plans were in place to offer alternative holidays in Greece and Spain. “Our first concern is for the safety and wellbeing of our clients,” Fontenla-Novoa claimed. “We will keep abreast of the situation and in nine months time, after adjusting our schedules to suit the political climate, we should be able to see very little impact on our results,” he added.

But rival company TUI Travel said that losses in the tourist industry of between 25 and 30 million pounds were likely as a result of the North African crisis.