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Holiday firm sees pick-up

First Choice, the third-largest tour operator in the UK, said that there were signs that the slow start to summer holiday bookings was showing signs of picking up, writes John Shepherd.

Despite an increase in sales in recent weeks, however, the company said bookings to the end of March were still down by 17 per cent against last year.

Michael Julien, chairman, yesterday told shareholders at the annual meeting: "We have slightly increased our market share for the season and although our cumulative bookings to date are down, our sales mix has benefited from successful product innovations."

Mr Julien said the company was heartened by the cautious approach of the big operators in reducing capacity to reflect lower demand in the early booking period.

"This approach should ensure that, as demand returns, profit margins for summer 1996 can return to a more satisfactory level than last year," he added.

The holiday companies suffered badly last year, principally because of over-optimistic forecasts by the industry on how many holidays could be sold and by the long, hot spell of weather in the UK that led to millions staying at home.

First Choice, with Airtours, has been making acquisitions abroad and at home to combat the problems in the UK. The company made three acquisitions last autumn, picking up SkiBound, the remaining 50 per cent of Fiesta West in Canada and the business of JWT in Ireland.

Mr Julien said SkiBound and Fiesta West had traded well.