Special Report: Is the axing of Thomson a risk or ‘no seismic shift’?

Special Report: Is the axing of Thomson a risk or ‘no seismic shift’?

Juliet Dennis looks back at the brand’s 52-year history and gauges former employees’ views of the new name

Thomson has for years been one of Britain’s most-trusted holiday brands.

Established as Thomson Travel Group in 1965 by Roy Thomson, Thomson has stood for good‑quality holidays, reliable service and friendly staff.

Many will recall the company’s famous 1980s TV advertisements in which a man in a bowler hat inspected Thomson’s hotel facilities. Others will be more familiar with recent campaigns using a storyline involving Miles the bear getting his smile back on a Thomson holiday.

The decision to replace Thomson with Tui as part of a group-wide strategy will be mourned by many.

Name ‘irrelevant’

But former employees who have built careers founded on what they learnt at Thomson believe the move is simply part of the necessary evolution and globalisation of today’s travel industry.

Former Thomson sales director Jeanne Lally, now joint managing director of Travel Bureau, said: “It’s sad for those of us who built the Thomson brand; it stood for a great business model. But it’s about moving forward. Tui is a global brand.”

For holidaymakers, the name change is largely irrevelant, according to Miles Morgan Travel owner Miles Morgan. He says it’s about whether the product, service and staff remain the same.

The former Thomson distribution director said: “Is the company still offering Sensatori? Is ‘Sue’ at Tui still going to book my holiday in the local travel agency? From a client perspective, the change to Tui is not seismic. It will have little or no bearing in the end.”

And while the switch to Tui has been long in the making – the company introduced the Tui smile in the UK market in the early 2000s – it is not the first time the group has instigated a major UK rebrand.


The decision to ditch the group’s Lunn Poly shop brand in favour of the Thomson name in 2004 was arguably more significant, says former managing director John McEwan, now chairman of Holidaysplease. He says the switch was accompanied by a change in strategy to directional-selling of Thomson product and increased exclusion of rival operators.

“Customers were used to buying a broad range of travel products through Lunn Poly, like cruises and other operators’ holidays,” he said. “When it became Thomson, this strategy was turned on its head.”

For many independent agents, one of the landmark decisions made by Thomson Holidays was to cut base commission to 7% in 2005. Some still refuse to sell Thomson today as a result.

Iconic rival

It remains to be seen how well UK customers take to the Tui name.

Ironically, a recent survey by the Direct Marketing Association named Thomson the top-preferred brand of holidaymakers, ahead of Booking.com and Thomas Cook.

“If you asked the average man on the street what Tui means, the majority would not recognise it,” said McEwan. “It leaves only one iconic leisure travel brand in terms of awareness: Thomas Cook.”

1965: Thomson Travel Group founded by Canadian media baron Roy Thomson following the acquisition of four tour operators – Skytours, Riveria Tours, Luxitours, Gaytours, and airline Britannia Airways
1972: Group acquires high street travel agency Lunn Poly
1970s: Brochure price of a holiday to Benidorm costs from £37 – about £150 in 2017 prices
1995: Thomson Cruises enters the market with ship Sapphire
2002: Thomson becomes part of Tui Group
2004: More than 600 Lunn Poly stores rebrand to Thomson
2008: Sensatori, Tui’s hotel concept, launches
2013: Thomson Airways becomes first UK airline to fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (the company now has 13) and Thomson’s flagship Holiday Store opens in Bluewater (there are now six nationwide)
2015: Thomson announces plan to get rid of brochures by 2020
2016: Thomson Couples resorts rebrands to Tui Sensimar and Thomson Cruises takes delivery of new ship Tui Discovery
2017: Thomson Cruises rebrands to Marella Cruises; Thomson becomes Tui on October 18


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