Thomas Cook fast-tracks shop sales

Travel agent is set to outsource property team to make the most from high street closures

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The Independent Online

Travel agent Thomas Cook plans to outsource its property team as it steps up the closure of its vast network of high street shops.

Chief executive Harriet Green  wants the struggling chain to bring in greater expertise to negotiate future store closures with its landlords.

In March, Thomas Cook announced the closure of 200 shops, leaving it with 874 outlets, and the loss of 2,500 jobs. These losses include the shutdown of its team of in-house surveyors.

One insider said the group will eventually sell off leases of hundreds more stores than those originally announced.

Ms Green was drafted in last year to turn the business around and has instigated a number of cost-cutting initiatives. Her strategy has won fans in the City and the shares have recovered from around 15p since her appointment in July to around 135p now, putting it back in the FTSE 250.

The retail network is managed by Joanna Wild, who will select the property agent this month. It will be asked to look for opportunities to assign leases to other retailers, offload them back to landlords or reduce rental outgoings through bargaining.

Over the long term the group plans to have only a handful of flagship stores in regional cities and shopping centres as the move to consumers buying holidays online continues. Last year, the Europe Online Travel Report estimated that more than half of all consumers avoid traditional travel agents and book their holidays from websites instead.

The 170-year-old firm, which takes six million people in the UK on holiday every year, has ruled out any wider corporate store restructuring process and instead will work on reducing it piecemeal. It is the latest retailer to have realised a large, national high street portfolio is outdated and unprofitable in the face of the growth of online sales.

A Thomas Cook spokesman said: “Thomas Cook UK is in a well-publicised consultation with its workforce as part of its complete business transformation programme. The property team form part of that consultation, which is in the middle of a 90-day process.

“As a leading high-street retailer, with a network of more than 1,100 stores it is important that we regularly review how we manage our property portfolio. We work with a number of suppliers and we are currently reviewing requirements in this area.”

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