Flight Centre to close up to 100 stores in Australia

Virus-bruised travel agency Flight Centre will close up to 100 underperforming stores and has scrapped its earnings guidance amid mounting airline service cuts and widening travel bans.

The company said on Friday that the stores will close before June 30, and sales staff will transfer to others, as part of moves to cushion the cost of the coronavirus outbreak.

Flight Centre brands include Escape Travel and Student Flights.

Managing director Graham Turner said reducing costs was priority in an uncertain environment.

He reported significant softening in bookings, which he expected to continue into April at least.

Management told the share market that while early trends had been in line with expectations, the virus' spread and travel restrictions made it more difficult to predict the full year impact.

"Given this uncertainty, the company has elected to suspend its revised FY20 guidance," Flight Centre said.

The guidance on February 27 was full-year profit before tax of $A240 million to $300 million, down from the previous range of $310 million to $350 million.

As part of cutting costs, Flight Centre directors will forgo 30 percent of their fees for the remainder of the financial year.

Some stores will reduce trading hours, and staff will be encouraged to take leave.

Recruitment will be suspended, and non-essential projects deferred.

Mr Turner said Flight Centre was well-placed to overcome the challenge and had balance sheet strength.

Flight Centre shares were down by 15 percent at $16.66 by 1219 AEDT and have lost about 60 percent of their value since February 20 amid a wider market sell-off.

The travel industry is one of those hardest hit by the virus and travels bans.

Many people have cancelled travel, prompting airlines and other businesses to cut the number of flights and services.

On Friday, Virgin Australia joined rivals Qantas and Air New Zealand in reducing capacities for international and domestic flights more than once in quick succession.

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