Thomas Cook has declined to confirm weekend reports that it is poised to announce the closure of 200 stores, but has indicated a phased closure programme is imminent.

The Sunday Times reported that the travel giant was preparing to announce the closures on Thursday, when Travel Weekly was expecting there to be a significant announcement timed to coincide with its end of year results.

On November 2 Travel Weekly reported that Cook had cancelled its annual overseas retail managers’ conference because it was deemed to be not appropriate to hold it while it was reviewing its store network.

The Sunday Times reported that Cook would be announcing major “accounting writedowns” on the value of its assets along with the 200 shop closures, on top of the 75 already announced due to the retail merger with The Co-operative Travel.

A Thomas Cook spokeswoman told Travel Weekly yesterday:  “At the time we announced our plans to merge (October 2010) we said that as part of the deal we anticipated around 75 shops may close.

“Since the merger completed last month it has now been possible to share store data and have undertaken a review of the combined shop estate. 

“We will be announcing the outcome of this review on Thursday. I won’t comment on possible numbers of shops but any closures will be done in a phased approach with staff redeployed where possible.”

The Co-op merger, which was completed on October 1, left Cook with around 1,350 Thomas Cook or Co-operative branded high street stores in its portfolio which combined employ around 8,000 of the firm’s 19,000 strong workforce.

If the report on shop closures is accurate that will take Cook’s shop numbers down to around 1,100, still around 300 more than rival Tui Travel, which has recently announced the rebranding of its First Choice stores to its more established Thomson brand with First Choice featured as an operator.

However, the prospect of such a large scale programme of store closures is likely to add to the unhappiness expressed by many Co-op staff about a merger they fear will undermine the independence of the brand.

The Sunday Times said Thursday’s announcements would “clear the decks” ahead of the appointment of its new chief executive, the headhunter Spencer Stuart having been brought in to find a successor to Manny Fontenla-Novoa.

The spokeswoman added: “Thomas Cook announced earlier this year that its new UK management team would be announcing the results of the UK review on November 24.

“As part of the review the management said it would announce measures to refocus the product strategy in mainstream package holidays, streamline the UK airline, improve yield management and operational excellence and measures to leverage the strong and trusted Thomas Cook brand.

“We will announce the outcome of all of these areas on Thursday.”