As retailers we live or die on the strength of our customer proposition, says Kane Pirie, managing director, Vivid Travel
We had a very short list of rules at Travel Republic including: don’t blame the market. Sales down: market; sales up: our own brilliance. Seductively easy. It’s the corporate version of my daughter Matilda’s favourite refrain: not my fault!
Obviously, market conditions play a role. Most of short-haul beach travel is about exchanging a modest amount of money and a considerable amount of stress at the airport for the promise of sunshine. That holds less appeal if it’s hotter at home. The Brexit pantomime with Simon Calder on TV reassuring consumers “planes will still fly, almost certainly” is bound to make some customers think “almost certainly” is certainly not good enough and defer booking.
Switching to long-haul, it is likely the pound will tank on December 12 following the meaningful vote on the meaningless deal and travel retailers will have to reprice upwards. Some canny customers are booking now at what might soon seem incredible prices.
There are also longer-term trends helping long-haul. The Golden Age of the beach holiday is over. For the Instagram generation, working on a tan or drinking beer by the pool for two weeks just does not cut it. They want to go further, see more, do more, record it all and post it online that evening. And it’s not just millennials. Families are increasingly in on the act too. This year I took my three children around China and Hong Kong on an epic family adventure. The equivalent in my own childhood was a week in Majorca, returning like feted heroes, plastic donkey and all (I’ve still got it somewhere). Times and consumer tastes change.
While the wider market is clearly relevant, it is no excuse for under performance. The role of management is to navigate the market conditions, whatever the weather. There is a Norwegian phrase: everyone is a good skipper in fine weather. The danger with blaming the market is it is justification for inaction, for the status quo to continue. It’s a hold steady and hope for the best plan.
Ultimately, as retailers we live or die on the strength of our customer proposition and poor sales are a warning signal it is not as compelling as you might want to believe.
Customers in all market segments like good value for money and that is, I suggest, the real reason that Thomas Cook is again issuing profit warnings. Travel Republic and On The Beach offer a very similar product for a lower price, so why pay more?
Despite much misinformation to the contrary, I believe upmarket customers are also interested in value for money. Some customers have glossed us as “Like Audley but cheaper” which is an oversimplification but it underlines that customers, at all market levels, recognise and appreciate fair pricing.
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