Travel company TUI said it will shut 166 stores in the UK and Ireland in response to the downturn in travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic, in a move which will lead to more losses in the battered sector. 

Covid-19 has wiped out holidays abroad for Europeans for months.

Now the threat of a second wave of infections and new restrictions on travel during the usually lucrative summer season are causing more pain in a sector where balance sheets are already strained.

The company said the closure of the 166 stores in the UK and Ireland would still leave it with 350 stores in those geographies, but made sense when 70% of TUI's UK bookings were made online. 

The closures would affect 900 employees but the company would try to move 70% of those staff into new homeworking sales and service jobs, meaning about 270 jobs were at risk.

TUI Ireland operates several stores here, including five in Dublin, two in Cork and one each in Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford. 

A spokesperson for TUI said the company will not be releasing a list of potential store closures during the consultation period with staff. 

The company has been operating here since 1988. 

"We want to be in the best position to provide excellent customer service, whether it's in a high street store, over the telephone or online, and will continue to put the customer at the heart of what we do," Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui UK and Ireland said. 

"It is therefore imperative that we make these difficult cost decisions, look after our colleagues during such unprecedented uncertainty and also offer a modern customer service," he added. 

TUI's UK unit was forced to cancel thousands of holidays earlier this week when Britain advised against travel to Spain, bringing back a 14-day quarantine rule for arrivals just weeks after saying travel there was safe. 

Germany-headquartered TUI said in May it needed to cut 8,000 jobs and shed 30% of its costs to prepare for a tourism market which would be smaller for some years.