Business Irish

Wednesday 11 December 2019

TUI resilient in the face of terrorism

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

John Lynch

Wonderful Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson first lectured the public about travelling "for travel's sake" almost 150 years ago.

But it took 30 years of peace in post-war Europe and the subsequent sustained efforts of cheap travel pioneers like Ryanair's Mick O'Leary to get the ball rolling. Now everyone wants to do what Stevenson recommended: "travel to go".

Many of us remember people in, say, the south or west of Ireland in the past who cheerfully admitted they'd never made it as far as Cork or Galway. But these days most people have been hit by the travel bug.

There is a booming industry to cater for the adventurous travellers and an even bigger one to look after those, like me, who crave the security of a bus; the certainty of a hotel booking; and the satisfactory knowledge that somewhere there is a four-star chef working on my scrumptious dinner. For us there is the package holiday operator.

Keen students of the sector will know there has been huge consolidation. In recent years, the Anglo-German concern TUI AG has become a behemoth of the industry.

It's the world's number one tour operator with a listing in London and Frankfurt. It trades in 130 countries, has 76,000 employees, and a very broad portfolio of hotels, cruise liners, aircraft and tour companies - like Thompson, Reiten, American Holidays and Falcon.

The hotel division is the largest leisure hotelier in Europe with 310 hotels in 24 countries and plans adding 60 new ones over the next three years including one in Ireland. TUI's cruise business is not large - yet. It has 13 ships with four on order.

The cruise business trades as Hapag-Lloyd in Germany and Thomson cruises in the UK. The company's aircraft business operates from 60 airports with a fleet of 140 aircraft making it the fifth-largest airline in Europe.

The group is focusing its firepower on packaged holidays. It has agreed the sale of its hotel beds subsidiary, the world's largest database of beds. It will off-load its specialists division, a niche tourism business for the outdoor types, and is targeting €50m in operation efficiencies.

TUI's biggest and most profitable region is the UK, Ireland and Nordic countries (Northern region) which accounts for €530m, half of the group's operating profit.

Germany, Austria and Switzerland (Central region) has a similar number of customers as the Northern region but with a challenging market, lower revenue and profits at €100m. Belgium, Netherlands and France (Western region) had problems with its North African and Turkey holidays.

Interestingly, the company is considering moving beyond its comfort zone of the Mediterranean to Asia and particularly the Chinese tourist market. This could prove difficult as the Chinese are not partial to sun or swimming. However, it intends adding hotels in the Maldives Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Cambodia.

TUI sales of €20bn - its first year as a combined group - were solid. In spite of terrorism difficulties, operating profit of €1bn was impressive. The shares trade at €13 having had a previous high of €17.60, has an attractive dividend of 5pc and is valued at €7.7bn. Some view its target of 10pc profit growth as ambitious.

Following the two terrorist attacks in Belgium and the earlier horrors in Paris, Turkey and Tunisia tour operators are changing their programmes.

Just how companies like TUI get on in the coming year will be a measure of how cowed the travelling public is. Allowing for these problems, TUI has strong earnings and a solid track record and is a share worth following.

Nothing in this section should be taken as a recommendation, either explicit or implicit to buy any of the shares mentioned.

Irish Independent

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