THOMAS COOK UK chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa
has lifted the lid on a week of turmoil for the travel giant.

Speaking exclusively to Travel Weekly following the
shock departure of managing director of sales Chris Onslow, Fontenla-Novoa
vowed to put recent upheavals behind him and move forward at a “rapid pace”.

He said: “The UK has had a very strong year – likely
to be the best on record – and that will continue into next year.”

He denied the UK business was under pressure to prop
up Thomas Cook AG following reports the group will post a loss up to 300
million euros for the year to October 31 2003 and the subsequent resignation of
chief executive officer Stefan Pichler and chief financial officer Norbert
Kickum.

Fontenla-Novoa refused to comment on the reasons for
Onslow’s departure after a mere eight months, but sources within the company
indicated a major falling out between the two men.

Fontenla-Novoa insisted: “His loss is not at all
significant. We are a very resolute organisation, we have some great people and
the momentum to move forward at a rapid pace.”

Onslow was headhunted from outside travel after retail
jobs including a stint working for the Asda supermarket chain. At the time of
his appointment, Fontenla-Novoa described him as a “heavy hitter” and said:
“We’re very excited about this guy.”

Onslow’s departure sparked an internal reshuffle with
director of mass-market product Simon Robinson becoming director, retail, with
overall responsibility for Thomas Cook’s 648 shops.

The company has recruited TUI UK general manager short
and long-haul Tony Hopkins as its new director, product and publishing, taking
over Robinson’s old role. No start date has been confirmed.

Robinson – who has worked in sales at previous jobs
but not specifically on the retail side – said his priority was to put the
final tweaks to the peak season campaign and meet key members of shop staff at
the forthcoming Thomas Cook business conference in Egypt.

Fontenla-Novoa said Robinson had “fantastic” business
skills and in depth knowledge of the industry. “He’s got great values,” he
added.