Travel Agents quickly adapted to the dynamic package (DP) revolution, developing their own systems or buying relatively cheap pre-built Dynamic packaging platforms, that allowed them to combine low cost carrier seats with multiple bed bank XML feeds.
The initial DP battle was all about “Price and Range”, with agents looking to have the biggest range of hotels and the most suppliers per hotel, to ensure they could always offer the cheapest price. Many smaller travel agents and OTA’s have never moved past this “Range” is everything model.
However, over time, bigger OTA’s like On the Beach have consolidated consumer demand into a much smaller range of “Recommended Hotels”, so that they have enough volume to justify contracting the hotels directly via an in house buying team. This in turn yields lower rates and/or higher margins, which has allowed them to advertise these hotels harder and create a virtuous circle of growth, with 65% of all sales going into directly contracted product and expanding sales over all.
The introduction of the European Package directive, which comes into force in June 2018, effectively bans “Flight Plus” ATOL’s and will force all UK Dynamic Packaging companies to move from their current status as “Agent” of the Hotel to full “Principal” status.
We are told by legal experts, that this will not affect the VAT status, keeping DP agents out of the extra £20 per passenger cost imposed by UK TOMS VAT, however there is no avoiding the extra-legal responsibilities that principal status gives.
As “Principals” each agent will be responsible for implementing their own Health and Safety checking procedure and have at least one person in the company trained and responsible for implementing their policy.
In reality, H&S is a relatively low cost issue as there are a number of independent industry experts, offering off the shelf “Self-Assessment” systems that can provide the required protection. In my experience, it is very difficult for DP agents with relatively scattered sales, across 1,000’s of hotels, to actually influence the H&S implementation of an individual hotel. However, it is vital to identify any high-risk properties and to drop them immediately. In a world where you have 100’s of alternatives to offer your customers, not doing so is reckless and potential commercial suicide. Agents should also be warned, that the worst possible outcome is to implement a H&S policy and not follow it 100%, as this ratchets up the criminal liabilities of the management of the business.
In my opinion the biggest issue facing agents when they become “Principals” is the cost of Public Liability Insurance.
Currently, either customers or more beneficially the ambulance Chasing” lawyers powering the wave of “Sickness” claims sweeping the industry, do not bother with DP Agents who are acting as the agent of the hotel, as they cannot effectively sue them in the UK and would have to take cases to the hotels home country.
However, from June 2018, DP agents will become UK principals allowing customer to sue them in the UK for any accidents or sickness issues, which is obviously a major concern for the insurance companies providing Public Liability quotes. Currently, most agents have just extended their current policies up the change of law date in June 2018, as Insurers simply will not quote yet or are asking for up to tenfold increases in premiums.
I personally expect that the cost of Public liability insurance will quickly stabilize and reduce as claims histories under the new Principal status are understood. However, the need to reduce Public liability cost may force agents to cut the number of bed bank suppliers based on the H&S policies and public liability indemnities that each supplier is willing to give. This is because these “pass on” indemnities will have a major influence on the agents own public liability costs.
Conversely, not having a bed bank provider to pass on Public liability costs may make the benefit of direct contracting less attractive where passenger volumes are lower in the major OTA’s, although I expect this impact to me minimal.
It is also likely that DP agents will ask the question “Why have 1,000’s of hotels on sale, that we have not sold in the last year? as doing so increases costs.
Chuck into the mix, the need to have a 24-hour duty office and emergency procedure training for all senior management and you quickly get a strong case for consolidation of product supply.
Therefore, within the next two years, I therefore expect all major consortia such as TTNG, Advantage, Global, Hays Travel etc. to be powering not just part of their agents DP operations, but 100% with there also being an increase in sales for Low cost carriers holiday operations.
Jet2 Holidays have lead the rush to replace the supply of “Standard” beach holidays to the independent travel agent sector, as both TUI and more recently Thomas Cook, abandoned the “Commodity” beach holiday market, in favor “Differentiated hotels”. However, the appointment of Johan Lundgren, the Ex Tui Boss, as Chief Executive of Easyjet must spell a major move by Easyjet into the Holiday sector.
I have previously been critical in articles of Easyjet insistence of finding outsourced partners to run their holiday division, but believe that given Johan’s vast experience in the holiday sector, he will quickly move the holiday operation in house and launch a major program to the UK Travel agent community in time for Summer 2019. I may be wrong but I willing to take some large wagers if anybody but Johan is willing to make them!!!