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Thomas Cook has added to the troubles of the British high street in the run-up to the festive period by announcing the closure of 50 shops, affecting 400 staff.
The closure of the unprofitable stores reflects the pace with which the tour operator’s customer are switching to booking holidays online.
The decision comes on the same day that Royal Bank of Scotland said it was closing 259 branches, a quarter of its total UK network, as its customers move to online banking.
Earlier this week, Lloyds Bank and Yorkshire Building Society revealed plans to close 49 and 13 branches, respectively.
The planned closures by Thomas Cook, which are due to be finalised by March next year, means the tour operator has now closed almost half its UK store network since 2012, when its branch network reached a peak of 1,237 stores following the takeover of Co-operative Travel.
The company said that it remained committed to a high street presence as 47 per cent of its customers still booked holidays in person. But speaking at the full-year results last month, Peter Frankhauser, Thomas Cook’s chief executive, said that the shift to online sales had been “faster than expected”, with sales growing 27 per cent in the last financial year to the end of September.
Thomas Cook said that profits from its UK business had also been hit by rising costs, in part due to the weakness of sterling against the euro but also owing to the switch in the choice of holiday destinations after a series of terror attacks put people off travelling to north Africa and Turkey.
Spain was the main beneficiary, with hoteliers pushing up prices as demand increased, leaving Thomas Cook to absorb some of the costs. Underlying earnings for the UK division fell 40 per cent to £52m, down from £86m in 2016.
A spokesman for Thomas Cook said that the high street was still important, as for many of its customers booking a holiday represented “many people’s single largest annual purchase”.
The company said it expected to “redeploy” a “significant proportion” of the 400 employees affected by the planned closures.