Thomas Cook targets European OTA market

Thomas Cook Group has put running an international online travel agency business at the heart of its long-term growth plans.

Europe’s second biggest leisure travel operator told the City yesterday: “We are restructuring our independent business and targeting significant long term growth in the European online travel agency (OTA) market”.

Talking to journalists, chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa added: [In two to three years’ time] you will see a much larger e-commerce based business. About 25% of our web bookings are coming from the internet but you will see that increase to about 35-40%.

“You’ll also see Thomas Cook competing with Expedia, Priceline and lastminute in their space as well, and we’ll have a much bigger presence in that market.”

He ruled out acquisitions as a means of increasing its web presence, talking instead about “building partnerships and competing successfully.”

A spokesperson told Travolution that a dedicated online travel agency model was “a space we are looking to enter because we don’t have an OTA in that pure Expedia-type business.” She added that Thomas Cook would leverage its existing selling platforms to develop its presence.

“We have always positioned ourselves as a retailer as well as an operator, so we see the online travel agency model as a retailing opportunity,” she said.

The OTA project is part of the revamp of its independent travel operations. During the year to end-Sept, “independent travel passengers increased by 18% through investment in dynamic packaging capabilities, significant focus on our ecommerce operations and expansion of our product offering.”

Thomas Cook has planned a strategy day for spring 2010 when more details about its international OTA are likely to be revealed.

For the year to end-Sept09, Thomas Cook has reported a pretax profit before exceptional of £308m on sales of £9.3bn.

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