Business Tour operators Horrible holidays
商业 旅游公司 糟糕的假期
The holiday business is in trouble. Firms are merging like Brits in Benidorm
EUROPE'S travel industry has had four terrible years: a recession, an Icelandic volcano, unrest in the Middle East, costly oil, a weak dollar and a widespread sense of malaise. People want to get away from it all, but worry that they can't afford to.
Airlines, hotels and cruise ships have all suffered, but the worst-hit are the tour operators. To survive, they have merged and cut costs. In 2007 Thomas Cook, a German-owned travel firm, took over MyTravel, a British rival, to create Europe's second-biggest package-tour firm. A couple of months later Hanover-based TUI, Europe's biggest travel company, merged its travel business with First Choice, another British package-holiday company, to create TUI Travel, a company based in London and listed on the London Stock Exchange. Both package-holiday giants cut capacity by as much as 25% in the following years.
航空公司，酒店以及度假巡游船都受到了牵连，但受影响最大的还是旅游公司。他们通过兼并和削减开支来维持生存。德国的Thomas Cook旅游公司在2007年收购了其英国的竞争对手My Travel，从而组建了欧洲第二大的旅游服务公司。几个月后，欧洲最大的旅游公司，总部位于汉诺威的途易与英国的另一家旅游服务公司 First Choice合并了其旅游业务，从而成立了途易旅游。途易旅游的总部位于伦敦，并于伦敦证交所上市。两家旅游服务巨头在接下来的几年里缩小规模高达25%。
Yet mergers and downsizing have provided only temporary relief. On August 3rd Holidays 4 UK, a tour operator specialising in trips to Turkey, went bankrupt, leaving 12,800 holidaymakers stranded. On the same day, Manny Fontenla-Novoa, the boss of Thomas Cook, was forced out of his job after three profit warnings in 12 months. His replacement will have a big job on his hands. In the nine months to June, Thomas Cook lost $326.1m before tax.
然而整合与缩小规模只是缓兵之计。八月三日，只提供土耳其旅行服务的旅游公司Holidays 4 UK宣布破产，造成了12,800名度假者的滞留。就在同一天，托马斯?库克的老板Manny Fontenla-Novoa在公司接到了12个月来的第三个利润预警后被迫离职。摆在他继任者面前的将是一项艰苦的工作。从去年九月到今年六月的九个月期间托马斯?库克的税前损失达3.261亿美元
TUI Travel is perking up a bit. Its pre-tax losses fell to ￡355m ($424m) in the nine months to June, from ￡563m for the same period last year. On August 10th it reported a 57% increase in its "underlying operating profits", a figure that excludes planeloads of supposedly one-off costs.
TUI Travel has several advantages. It is less centralised than Thomas Cook, more flexible and better managed. It sells fewer holidays in the turbulent Middle East. And its margins are buoyed by its focus on fancy holidays rather than bargain booze-ups on beery beaches.
Even so, a spokeswoman for TUI Travel admits that the high oil price is a worry. TUI Travel owns 143 aircraft. The company was fully hedged for oil-price volatility this year but next year it is expecting a 30% increase in its fuel bill. Its French business is suffering because of political unrest in France's former African colonies, which are a favourite destination for French holidaymakers. TUI Travel is now planning to merge its French operations to create one brand in the hope that this will turn around its weakest unit.
The traditional tour operators' business model is out of date, says Jamie Rollo of Morgan Stanley, a bank. Their fixed costs are high. They book flights and rooms months in advance, and still have to pay for them even if a volcano or terrorist forces travellers to cancel. And although they now do a lot of business online, they struggle to compete with cheaper online-only firms such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz.
Further consolidation is likely. Germany's package-tour market is still fragmented and lucrative, so REWE Touristik and others might soon be snapped up. TUI Travel and Thomas Cook might even merge, creating a giant and saving plenty of money. Alternatively, one of these two big boys might marry a low-cost airline, linking cheap flights with cheap beds.
In the short run Thomas Cook's new boss will have to improve the company's dire finances. The firm is planning to sell assets worth ￡200m over the next six to 18 months, including some or all of its seven hotels. Its chief financial officer says that an equity issue is not on the cards, at least for now. He may have to change his mind. Holidays are supposed to be relaxing, but for the firms that provide them, they are anything but.