Owners surges in quiet market

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OWNERS Abroad, the UK's third- largest tour operator, yesterday announced a 42.4 per cent surge in bookings for holidays next summer. The shares rose 7p to 119p in a dismal market, reflecting the company's recovery rather than that of the industry as a whole.

The percentage increase amounts to fewer than 48,000 extra sales. Owners sells more than 2 million holidays a year out of total industry sales approaching 13 million.

Owners, or First Choice as it will be known, had suffered from too many brands and weak management. These problems were exposed by the protracted, albeit unsuccessful, bid from Airtours in the spring.

Thomson, the market leader, also caused problems for Owners in mid-August when it launched its brochures for next summer earlier than expected.

Analysts said Owners' new management should yield a minimum 1 percentage point increase in the company's market share this year to around 16 per cent.

But this improvement hides a stagnating short-haul holiday market. This month's issue of Outbound, the travel industry news- sheet, says: 'Current levels of bookings suggest the overall market will be down by 10 to 12 per cent by the end of September with little to improve that before Christmas.'

The consumer, it seems, has become wiser to the marketing hype surrounding early booking discounts of 15 per cent. As ever, big discounts will be available at the height of the selling season at Christmas and even bigger bargains can be expected by those who delay booking until the last moment.