Thomas Cook’s recent £1.4 Billion refinancing clearly shows that their banks remain confident in Cooks ability to turn their international business around and implement the strategic review presented by the management team.
In the UK market, Cooks have decided to follow the lead of their biggest competitor TUI and focus on differentiated tour operating product. Since it is virtually impossible to differentiate short haul flights compared to the excellent service provided by the likes of easyJet, this differentiation is focused on the hotel element of the holiday.
First Choice and latterly TUI via their merger, has been focused on differentiation for nearly 10 years via their Holiday Villages, Sensatori and Thomson Gold brands. In doing so they have developed a higher price, higher margin proposition that is in demand and can only be purchased from them. Thomas Cook clearly has a lot of ground to catch up, but given their determination and new financial backing will make rapid progress.
So who is going to fill the “Commodity Gap”?
The birth of Flight Plus ATOL, may also signal the age of “Travel Agent Packages” (TAP’s). For many years we have seen the rapid growth of Online Travel Agents using Dynamic Packaging technology, but high street agents have been slower to adapt. However, as the majors shrink their capacities to focus on differentiated product, they will need less third party agency distribution, which may force evolution.
It is clear that independent agents have a gap to fill and the new Hays Travel packaging site is unlikely to be the only attempt to fill this space. It is likely most agents will use their own Flight Plus ATOL to package holidays using low cost carriers and bed banks like On Holiday Group’s “Holiday Brokers” brand.
The key driver of the “commodity” holiday market is the flight capacity on leisure routes provided by low cost carriers. This summer season has demonstrated that for every seat the traditional tour operators take out, the low cost carriers appear to be adding two!!
Years ago on joining MyTravel from Ryanair, Tim Jeans sat me down and explained how he could fly three Paris routes in the ten hours it took a charter flight to fly to and from Tenerife, creating 20% more revenue. However, as the recession has hit demand for city flights, the reverse argument has set in, with Low Cost Carriers switching aircraft to the Canaries in order to only have to fill one seat, instead of 3 to make the same revenue.
Although Low Cost Carriers would prefer to run their own direct sale tour operations e.g. Easyjet holidays, these have not enjoyed the massive success they expected. Similarly, although Ryanair may not like agents using their flights to package, it is virtually impossible for them to stop it and one day they may even wake up to the benefits.
The “Commodity Gap” is likely to be filled by the rapid expansion of online companies like On The Beach and Travel Republic. However, the advent of Flight Plus ATOL’s should give high street agents and homeworkers the confidence to build their own ATOL bonded holidays to fill the “Commodity Gap” created by the withdrawal of the major tour operators, so don’t write them off just yet.