First Choice upbeat about post-World Cup summer despite slight increase in losses

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The Independent Online

First Choice slashed capacity in May and June to avoid being stuck with hundreds of unsold holidays while football fever grips the nation.

Despite cutting back the amount of its specialist holidays, such as trekking in Morocco's Atlas mountains, by 15 per cent and its mainstream packages by 9 per cent, the tour operator said the current lull should not knock it off course.

Speaking as the company unveiled slightly wider interim losses, Peter Long, the chief executive, said he was confident about the high season.

"We called it broadly right because we only have 3 per cent [of our holidays] left to sell for June," he said. Mr Long predicted that demand would come flooding back after the World Cup ends on 9 July.

"Market conditions may fluctuate but the fundamental demand for holidays has not changed," Mr Long added.

First Choice, which has expanded into the student and booming "grey" travel markets, said it has plenty of appetite for more deals. After spending £95m in the first half of its year, buying groups such as an escorted tours business for rich Americans, the company is poised to spend another £60m in its second half.

Paul Bowtell, First Choice's finance director, said: "We are aiming to spend £100m per annum for the next couple of years."

The company's fastest growing market is adventure holidays, which are appealing to a broader audience including families. Mountain climbing, cycling and visiting the Arctic and Antarctic are also popular, Mr Long said.

The group reported pre-tax losses of £78.2m in its seasonally weaker first half compared with £66.7m last year.

It is opening about 20 more travel agent shops in market towns across the UK using franchisees.