Almost 200 Thomas Cook travel agency jobs are at risk under plans to shut 39 branches.

The closures were confirmed today as part of a wider review of the retail network which employs 5,500 people.

Discussions have started with around 180 staff affected “with the hope that the majority can be redeployed across the business to retain their expertise,” the company stressed.

“Thomas Cook continually reviews its store locations to ensure it is optimising the effectiveness of its retail network.

“As a result, it has identified 39 stores for closure, either because they are in areas where there are too many stores in close proximity or because a decline in footfall has impacted profitability.”

The plans include the refurbishment and rebranding of 57 Co-operative Travel Shops to Thomas Cook following a move to take full control of the network last autumn. The aim is to have all stores operating under the Thomas Cook brand by November 2018.

The changes will see the 757-branch network trimmed to 719 outlets nationwide with the opening of a fourth Discovery concept store this spring in Silverburn, Glasgow, following openings last year in Westfield Stratford City, Chelmsford and Belfast.

A rolling programme of refurbishment of existing stores is also planned in high footfall areas to the new format with the aim of having 25 Discovery stores by the end of 2019.

Thomas Cook UK & Ireland retail and customer experience director, Kathryn Darbandi, said: “We’re continually reviewing our network of stores across the UK to ensure that they’re doing the best job they can in engaging customers in the great range of holidays Thomas Cook offers.

“While we’ve seen strong growth in our online sales, we also know that more than two thirds of customers who research online come into store, valuing that face-to-face contact with our travel experts.

“The changes we’re making ensure that we’ve not only got the right stores where customers most need them but also that we’re creating an experience that they will recommend to their family and friends.”