The Covid-19 crisis “pressed the pause button” on travel but has not changed the industry’s “great long-term prospects”, according to Tui chief executive Fritz Joussen.

Addressing Tui’s annual general meeting (AGM) on March 25, Joussen said Tui “was in rude health” before the crisis.

He told shareholders: “We were able to finance our activities on the capital markets at an interest rate of 1.5%.

“In 2019 we had 27 million customers and we planned growth of 20%. Our bookings in January 2020 reflected this.”

Joussen traced the course of the pandemic and Tui’s response to it, reporting the group had burned through €4.4 billion in liquidity.

He warned: “We will continue to experience negative impacts of the pandemic in 2021. We expect to develop a cash break-even position, but we don’t know how the pandemic will develop. The board continues to refrain from making a financial forecast.”

However, he insisted: “We continue to see strong pent-up demand to travel. We see great long-term prospects. The crisis does not change anything compared to the mega trends [for travel], it merely presses the pause button.”

Joussen noted: “We had started transforming Tui from an integrated travel group to a digital platform business [before the crisis].”

This transformation had been speeded up by the pandemic, he said, with the removal of assets from the balance sheet. But he insisted: “We retain control over product, brand, capacity and sales.”

He said “we already achieved this for Tui Cruises” and confirmed “a similar move is planned” for UK cruise brand Marella “as soon as the market permits”.

Joussen made clear in December that Tui is seeking a joint-venture partner for Marella after failing to strike a deal with existing cruise joint-venture partner Royal Caribbean Group.

The group signed a JV agreement with Royal Caribbean on German brand Hapag-Lloyd Cruises in July last year and has operated Hamburg-based Tui Cruises as a joint venture with Royal Caribbean since 2008.

Joussen said then: “The strategy is clear. The ships need to be in a separate investment vehicle. We will take Marella assets off the balance sheet.”

He paid tribute to Tui employees, telling shareholders: “They deserve our thanks for their commitment that has seen our company through this crisis.

“The burden of the crisis has been nerve wracking and marked by great uncertainty.”

But Joussen argued: “The end of travel restrictions now seems within touching distance and we can carry our previous success forward.”

“The Tui of tomorrow will be stronger, leaner and more digital than before.”