December 1, 2011 10:51 pm

Thomas Cook accuses Tui of unfair jibe

Thomas Cook has filed a complaint about an online advertisement published by Tui Travel accusing its rival of drawing consumers’ attention unfairly to its financial problems.

The advert was run following last week’s collapse in Thomas Cook’s share price. The travel operator was forced to seek a new £200m loan from lenders to cover a cash crunch brought on by a deterioration in trading.

Tui ran adverts for First Choice, one of its brands along with Thomson, on its website under the headline: “No worries about your holiday company AND no worries about what you’re spending.”

The advert went on: “Unlike a certain holiday company we could mention, you don’t need to worry about the way we run our business.”

Thomas Cook decided to complain to the Association of British Travel Agents, the industry group, even though Sam Weihagen, its interim chief executive, had publicly praised another Tui advert, for its Thomson brand, which also appeared to disparage its rival.

This advert, which appeared in print, included the line: “Another holiday company may be experiencing turbulence, but we’re in really great shape.”

Mr Weihagen, asked on a media conference call last Saturday if he was unhappy with the Thomson print advert, said: “It’s a very good ad. If I was in the position to do a similar ad, I’d probably do it.”

Tui said: “The aim of both the Thomson and First Choice advertising campaigns was to reassure our customers that we, Tui UK & Ireland, are not facing any sort of financial difficulty.

“In the past there has been consumer confusion between our brands and our competitors,” said the operator.

“So this advertising campaign was meant as a brand reassurance message and to clarify any confusion between the two separate companies.”

Abta said that it was looking into potential breaches of its code of conduct caused by both the Tui print advert for Thomson and the online advert for First Choice.

The industry body was also looking at an online advert from Lowcostholidays, which has been removed from its website. It acknowledged that Thomas Cook had not complained about the Thomson advert, but said that Abta was entitled to investigate it in any case.

According to Abta’s code of conduct, members should not bring the industry body nor other members into disrepute and should not make representations about their financial status. If it finds that members have breached the code, it can reprimand them or terminate their membership.

Thomas Cook’s share price dropped 75 per cent on the day that it announced the need for new bank talks. While the new deal has enabled the share price to recover, it is still 55.5 per cent down since the day of that announcement. In that period, Tui’s share price has risen 14.5 per cent.

Thomas Cook said: “Thomas Cook has referred First Choice and Lowcostholidays to Abta over online advertising activity which it believes breached the association’s code of conduct.”

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