TUI's summer travel bookings were steadily approaching pre-Covid levels, the European holiday company said today, helping it return a portion of the German state aid it received to weather the pandemic fallout.

The world's largest holiday company said 3.5 million TUI customers had booked a trip for summer 2022, as of January 30, around 72% of the levels seen during the same period in 2019.

However, new bookings were at 100% of pre-crisis levels, it added.

TUI, which runs hotels, airlines, cruises and travel agencies, had struggled since pandemic-related restrictions wreaked havoc on the global tourism industry.

As countries gradually lift curbs, demand for travel has improved, underpinning hopes for a recovery.

"We expect a strong summer 2022," TUI's chief executive Fritz Joussen said. "There is pent-up demand among customers."

Travellers are also booking "higher quality" holidays with bigger budgets this summer, the company said.

TUI, which has been bailed out multiple times by the German government and taken more than €4 billion in state loans and raised equity to ride out the crisis, said it would return around €0.7 billion of the state aid by April.

As of last week, the company had cash and cash equivalents of €3.3 billion.