Thomson blames poor sales on millennium apathy

THOMSON TRAVEL, the UK's leading holiday company, yesterday issued a veiled profits warning - its third this year - blaming lower-than-expected demand over the millennium period.

Cushioning the blow with news of the pounds 10.6m acquisition of Oy Finnmakt, the second-largest tour operator in Finland, from Finnair, and an invitation for analysts to visit Stockholm at the company's expense, Thomson said: "In line with [our] competitors, [we are] also experiencing very weak demand for the millennium period, which... has been particularly difficult to predict."

The group said it expected margins in the final weeks of this year to be "significantly lower" than usual and that sales for the winter season, excluding departures with a stay over 31 December, were 10 per cent below last year. Analysts said the announcement was "unsurprising but still disappointing".

A Thomson spokesman said consumers would benefit from the millennium hiccup, with some enjoying discounts of up to 50 per cent. A typical Mediterranean holiday over the two-to-three-week period covering 31 December would sell for between pounds 150 and pounds 300 less than its original price of about pounds 600 a person.

Separately yesterday Thomson said that Charles Gurassa, its chief executive designate, will join the group earlier than expected, on 1 December.

Shares in the company yesterday fell 1p to 90p, compared with the group's 170p flotation price less than two years ago.

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