Confusion surrounds new Egypt visa rules

By Juliet Dennis | 25 March 2015 at 08.30 GMT

New regulations are expected on May 15 as part of a security crackdown to deter terrorists from travelling to Egypt.

The UK office of the Egyptian State Tourist Office said talks were ongoing, with exact details due at the end of this week.

But Egypt ministry of tourism spokeswoman Rasha Azaizi said anyone booking a trip independently, and not being met by a ground-handling agent, would need a visa in advance.

Holidaymakers booking through an operator will not be affected, but it was unclear whether tourists who book flight-only or accommodation-only through an agent would continue to be able to obtain a visa upon arrival.

“These changes will just apply to independent travellers,” said Azaizi. “Those people handled by an operator or local ground-handler will not be affected: they need to be met by a ground-handler because that’s who will get the visas for them at the airport.”

She was adamant there would be no major impact for trade business from the UK.

Andy Tomlinson, director of Sutton Travel in Sutton Coldfield, said more travellers could even be encouraged to book via the trade.

He said: “It could work in favour of operators and agents. But it is still up in the air in terms of who needs it [a visa in advance].

“I was worried about DIY packages we put together ourselves, but our clients are met on arrival by a ground-handler.”

Discover Egypt director Philip Breckner said: “As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t affect our customers, but it is confusing.”

Visas are not required for UK visitors travelling to the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba for up to 15 days, and there was no indication this would change.

Sourced from Travel Weekly

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Tui Group sees ‘significant rise’ in online bookings for summer 2015

By Phil Davies | 25 March 2015 at 08.27 GMT
Tui Group today reported strong demand for summer mainstream holidays and a “significant” rise in online bookings.

Online booking levels for summer 2015 are up 12% year-on-year with 46% of the group’s mainstream programme sold – in line with this time last year.

Unique holidays account for almost three quarters of all mainstream bookings for the coming summer, up by three percentage points.

Overall summer bookings are up by 1% with average selling prices also up by 1%.

“Based on current trading, we remain confident of delivering full year underlying operating profit growth of 10% to 15%'” the Thomson and First Choice parent company said in a trading update this morning.

Tui Group chief executives of TUI Group, Friedrich Joussen and Peter Long said: “Winter 2014/15 is closing out as expected, with our mainstream programme almost fully sold and higher average selling prices in most source markets.

“We are pleased with summer 2015 trading, with continued strong demand for our unique holidays and a significant increase in online bookings.

Hotels & resorts are performing well and cruise sales continue to grow, with the launch of Mein Schiff 4 this June and improved fleet performance by Hapag-Lloyd.

“Accommodation Wholesaler is also delivering another year of double-digit TTV growth.

“We are continuing to implement our strategy post-merger, and will articulate this in further detail at our capital markets update on 13 May 13.

“We are on track to deliver a first half result ahead of last year on a like-for-like basis, and remain confident of delivering full year underlying operating profit growth of 10% to 15%.”

Europe’s largest travel group saw winter 2014/15 closing out “as expected,” with higher average selling prices in most source markets, up 1% overall.

Sourced from Travel Weekly


Airlines face court threat over customer services

 
Three airlines are facing legal action over complaints about how they handle passengers hit by flight disruptions.

The Civil Aviation Authority said Ireland’s Aer Lingus, Britain’s Jet2 and Hungary’s Wizz Air have failed to change their consumer policies in line with its requests.

Andrew Haines, chief executive of the CAA, said passengers have “every right to be disappointed” by the trio.

The move follows a six-month review of passenger disruption policies.

It examined how airlines handle compensation for flight delays and offer information to passengers about their customer rights.

The CAA said it has launched enforcement action against the three airlines and will seek a court order unless they comply.

The allegations against the airlines are:

Aer Lingus and Jet2 have failed to give satisfactory evidence that they proactively provide passengers with information about their rights in line with the requirements set out in European regulation.
Jet2 and Wizz Air have failed to satisfy the regulator that they are consistently paying compensation for disruption caused by technical faults, despite a Court of Appeal ruling clarifying that airlines must do so.
Jet2 and Wizz Air are imposing two-year time limits for passengers to take compensation claims to the court, despite a Court of Appeal ruling that passengers should have up to six years to take a claim to court.
Mr Haines said: “Airlines are well aware of the support they must provide when there is disruption and passengers have every right to be disappointed that a small number of airlines are not complying with the Court of Appeal rulings and continue to let people down in this way.

“Since the law was clarified last year, we have been active to ensure airlines are applying consumer law appropriately and I warmly welcome the response of those airlines that have changed their policies as a result of this work.”

A Jet2 spokeswoman told the BBC that the CAA’s announcement was “materially inaccurate” regarding the airline’s duties to compensate passengers for disruption.
The CAA has been reviewing how airlines compensate disrupted passengers
She said Jet2 was paying compensation for disruption in line with previous court rulings and that airlines “are entitled” to limit to two years the period in which claims are made.

She added: “No enforcement action has been taken. Given the misapprehensions of the CAA, Jet2.com expects that following the mandatory consultation process the CAA will not wish to take the matter any further.”

Aer Lingus spokesman Declan Kearney said the Irish airline was engaging with the CAA to address its concerns.

He added: “Aer Lingus’ procedures, relating to the provision of information to customers affected by operational disruption, are fully compliant with all the relevant regulations. We have provided a number of documents to the CAA in recent months to substantiate this point and we continue to engage with the CAA to address their concerns.”

Wizz Air spokesman Daniel de Carvalho said it is currently reassessing compensation cases.

He told the BBC: “The UK CAA is well aware that Wizz Air is re-assessing these cases and has confirmed to the UK CAA itself, some time ago, that it will apply the UK CAA’s own list of extraordinary circumstances in the relevant cases.”

He said that limiting the time within which claims can be raised to two years has been “upheld by the English courts”.

Sourced from BBC News


Chancellor says nothing on APD or travel in final Budget

18 March 2015 at 14.15 GMT
Chancellor George Osborne made no mention of Air Passenger Duty in today’s Budget, but Treasury Budget documents confirm APD will rise at the rate of the Retail Price Index (RPI) from April next year.

Changes to APD from this spring, already announced, will see the overall tax take from the duty fall by about £250 million in the next financial year.

But the Treasury still expects to extract £3.9 billion in annual duty from the tax by 2018-19, up from £3.2 billion in the current year.

APD will be charged at two rates rather than four from the start of April, with a short-haul economy rate of £13 and £71 for medium and long-haul flights.

Fares for children under 14 will no longer be subject to APD from May.

The Chancellor made few direct references to travel in his final Budget before the general election on May 7.

However, his pledge to “ensure Britain is the global centre for the sharing economy” could have repercussions for sections of the travel industry.

Budget documents state the Government’s intention to “enable government employees to use sharing economy solutions to book accommodation and transport when travelling on official business”.

Osborne promised “new investment in transport infrastructure for London”, “a comprehensive transport strategy for the North” and “over £7 billion of transport investment” for the South West.

A cut in corporation tax to 20% and review of business rates were calculated to please businesses.

The Chancellor appealed to households by announcing a freeze on fuel duty, a reduction in beer duty and a rise in the personal tax allowance.

Osborne announced a so-called Google Tax on companies seeking to avoid taxes by registering overseas would be introduced next week and apply from next month.

Raising APD by the RPI rate is likely to mean an above-inflation rise next year.

RPI has been consistently higher than the official Consumer Price Index (CPI) since 2009 and the former rate is no longer used by the Government as an official measure of inflation.

The annual RPI rate in January of this year was 0.5% against a CPI rate of 0.3%.

Sourced from Travel Weekly


At least seven tourists dead in attack at museum in Tunisia

By Juliet Dennis | 18 March 2015 at 13.09 GMT
At least seven foreign tourists are understood to have been killed in an attack by gunmen at a museum in Tunisia.

A Tunisian is also understood to be among the dead and there are also unconfirmed reports that tourists are being held hostage.

The shooting took place at the Bardo Museum in the Tunisian capital of Tunis. Unconfirmed media reports say the tourists killed were from France, Spain and Italy.

The parliament is located in the same building as the museum in the Bardo Palace and was in session when the shootings took place.

According to Reuters news agency, around 160 tourists have already been rescued from the museum and between 20 and 30 tourists remain inside.

Sourced from Travel Weekly


City Insider: Thomas Cook and Chinese whispers

By David Stevenson | 16 March 2015 at 08.24 GMT

City Insider – FT journalist David Stevenson on the travel industry
In association with Travelport

 

David Stevenson reflects on Thomas Cook’s recent deal with Club Med-owner Fosun and foresees an upturn at cruise line Carnival

UK number two Thomas Cook has come a long way since the dark days of 2011.

Harriet Green evidently helped mastermind a classic business turnaround and shareholders reacted by bidding the business back up to a £2 billion valuation in November.

Yet since Harriet’s departure, questions have started to emerge about what happens next?

Various scenarios have circled around, including perhaps selling the airline. I always thought this was a slightly farfetched idea – why sell the one thing that allows a travel operator to leverage margins through a cycle.

Sure, it’s a capital drain, but it’s also a massive scale advantage. No surprise then, when Thomas Cook told Travel Weekly’s very own Ian Taylor: “We are definitely not desperate to sell our airline. There were no talks. There is no real news.”

What this story did highlight was a core issue about capital origination for the businesses new chief executive Peter Fankhauser.

Put simply, Thomas Cook needs to stay in the game against an even bigger competitor that has scale and open access to the debt markets in order help fund its relentless move into higher value operations.

As I’ve said many times before, that requires lots of debt funding and cheap bond terms.

Ms Green’s turnaround helped steady the nerve of the existing bond holders but beyond some savings from the various ‘waves’ of transformation, I can’t quite see where the massive dollops of extra capital are supposed to come from.

Cue the announcement last week that a two-year waiting game has finally paid off – Thomas Cook announced a strategic partnership with Chinese conglomerate Fosun.

The terms of the deal are fairly straightforward – the ambitious Chinese firm takes a 5% stake (through Fosun subsidiary Companhia de Seguros) at 125.59p, with the intention to double the holding to 10% via open market purchases.

No wonder the Cook share price bobbed up over a quarter to more than 150p a share – £92 million has found its way on to the balance sheet which should help with those all-important debt negotiations.

The next steps are potentially transformational. The two groups will now focus on Thomas Cook’s already bold plans to expand its own higher-margin Concept hotels label, as well as a new hotel fund partnership where the two businesses buy indie hotels, do them up and then Thomas Cook manages them.

Reuters reports that Thomas Cook estimates “the size of the hotel fund, in which it won’t invest, would need to be about €350 million ($384 million) to €500 million to acquire an initial 30 hotels, mainly in the Mediterranean.”

Thomas Cook reckons the tie up will enhance earnings in the financial year to September 30, 2016, assuming plans under the partnership are implemented in 2015.
Obviously, Fosun was quick to assure investors that this wasn’t the first step to buying out Thomas Cook.

But given the Chinese business’s past form with Club Med (a $1.1 billion takeover), maybe Thomas Cook’s days are numbered?

I take a slightly more cynical line. It is a good deal and would have crowned Ms Green’s legacy if it had come any earlier. But it exposes the fact that Thomas Cook needs help to access the capital required to stay global.

It means Thomas Cook’s days as a separate business are numbered and it will be forced to partner with someone else very soon. But potential bidders will be put off by the Fosun link, not least because they will think they would find themselves in a bidding war.

My suspicion is that Fosun gets a great deal. It gets its hotel fund managed by Thomas Cook and it also gets big leverage into a distribution channel for its Club Med business.

It might even convince Thomas Cook to take a stab at expansion in China, which would be foolhardy in the extreme.

Things are also looking up at Anglo American cruise giant Carnival – now shouting about its huge new ship the Britannia.

My hunch is that we are about to see a big growth splurge in the European cruise market as lower oil prices feed directly through into big profits advances for Carnival.

Guidance to analysts has been suggesting earnings per share could double and we could see return on capital hit the double digits.

Crucially, after a poor few years as a result of some rather obvious mishaps we should see above-industry yield growth as the Costa brand finally recovers its mojo and Aida in Germany powers ahead.

Analysts at UBS report that massive spending on TV advertising is having a big effect on boosting demand (without lower prices).

Talking of all things Chinese, it seems Carnival has the biggest upside from increasing demand from Asian customers not least because it’s well behind its competitors at the moment.

We can expect Carnival to ramp up supply to the Chinese market.

Surging profits and cash flows will help Carnival invest even more in new capacity for Asia which should feed back into faster group-wide growth. Watch this space as Carnival could be a big success in 2015 and beyond.

Sourced from Travel Weekly


New Club Med owner takes 5% stake in Thomas Cook

By Phil Davies | 06 March 2015 at 07.13 GMT
Chinese conglomerate Fosun International said it has taken a 5% stake in Thomas Cook Group, deepening its foray into Europe’s tourism sector after buying French holiday maker Club Med last month.

Fosun paid £91.8 million for the stake and will seek to double its holding in Thomas Cook to 10%, it said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange.

The two businesses will explore “collaborative opportunities” between Thomas Cook and other travel and leisure businesses in Fosun’s investment portfolio.

This includes a closer co-operation with Club Med, further enhancing the existing strong relationship between the two organisations in France and extending it to other key European markets, Cook said.

The deal also allows Cook access to the fast-growing Chinese tourism market in partnership with a company with “significant experience” in Chinese leisure and tourism.

Thomas Cook chairman Frank Meysman, said: “Building on our significant progress to date, we are delighted to announce our partnership with Fosun, which represents a major milestone in Thomas Cook’s 174-year history designed to bring significant benefits to Thomas Cook and its shareholders.

“Fosun’s strong track record of value creation and focus on international tourism makes it the ideal partner to strengthen our brands and products.”

CEO Peter Fankhauser said: “Our partnership with Fosun is aimed at accelerating our profitable growth strategy by allowing us to further develop our differentiated product in our core destination markets, to collaborate with Fosun’s other portfolio businesses particularly in France, and to access the world’s largest and fastest-growing tourism markets with an experienced local partner.

“We are looking forward to working closely with Fosun’s team to execute the commercial opportunities we are developing.”

Fosun executive director and president Wang Qunbin said: “Our strategic partnership with Thomas Cook is another strong example of Fosun’s status as a trusted and experienced partner for leading international tourism businesses.

“Thomas Cook’s strong brand heritage and its leading position in the European travel market, together with Fosun’s extensive expertise and resources, will capitalise on the increasing demand for international leisure travel.

“The investment in Thomas Cook complements our other recent investments in the sector, providing opportunities for further value creation.”

Qian Jiannong, President of Fosun’s tourism and commercial group, added: “This partnership further demonstrates Fosun’s commitment to the tourism sector and represents another significant milestone following our investment in Club Med.

“We are excited about the prospect of developing our partnership with Thomas Cook.”

China is the world’s largest outbound market with a total expenditure of $129 billion in 2013.

In the first three quarters of 2014, total outbound expenditure grew by 17%.

The total number of trips abroad from China was estimated to be 107 million in 2014, representing year-on-year growth of 20%.

Sourced from Travel Weekly