Thomas Cook
Thomas Cook

Around 400 jobs have been put in jeopardy at Thomas Cook, after the travel firm announced plans to shut 50 stores across the country as part of an ongoing review into its high street network.

The London-listed company, which has shut 640 stores over the last few years, indicated an increased shift to online sales was the main factor behind the decision.

The closures, which will begin from March next year, will affect both Thomas Cook and Co-operative Travel branded stores.

The travel operator added the stores earmarked for closures were either located close to other stores or had reported a sharp drop in profitability, while it also moved to reassure its employees, suggesting many of them will be redeployed across its network.

"We continually review our network of stores across the UK to make sure we're offering customers the best of Thomas Cook," the company's director of retail and customer experience, Kathryn Darbandi, said in a statement on Friday (1 December).

"It is clear that to succeed we have to operate as a truly omni-channel business. We will offer the customers a world-class service whichever channel they chose to book, be that retail or online."

Last week, the company revealed online sales grew 27% over the last 12 months and were now one of the main drivers of growth, even though 47% of all holidays booked with Thomas Cook are still booked in store.

Despite that, however, the company has slashed its retail network in the UK by 45% over the last five years and had 692 stores at the end of September.

The tour operator also reported a 9% year-on-year increase in annual like-for-like revenue to £9bn, while profits after tax grew 11% from the corresponding period a year earlier to £12m.

Chief executive Peter Fankhauser suggested the performance pointed towards a positive outlook, although he warned the trading environment in Britain remained difficult.

"While conditions are challenging in the UK, we have implemented a set of actions to improve performance," he said.

"Overall, based on current trading, I believe that we are well-positioned to achieve a full year operating result in line with market expectations."