Operator reveals plans to expand its network of branches and partner stores, as it gears up to host its first summit for third-party agents. Juliet Dennis reports
Kuoni has revealed locations for three more stores to open this year and plans to boost trade ties with two further partner stores.
The Kuoni-owned stores will be in Lakeside Shopping Centre in Essex, Harrogate and Brighton.
One more Kuoni store is also being sourced to open this year, which will bring the total number of branches to 40, including 13 John Lewis concessions, by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Kuoni’s network of partner stores is set to reach 50 this year with two new stores to be announced in the coming weeks.
UK managing director Derek Jones said Kuoni had no plans to slow the pace of expansion and claimed the operator’s approach to partnering with independent agents was unprecedented in today’s travel industry.
“I cannot think of any other operator working so closely with agents, where they are still running their store but wearing Kuoni uniforms,” he said. “It’s proved to be more successful than even we anticipated.”
Opening dates have yet to be set for the Harrogate and Brighton stores, but Kuoni’s Lakeside shop is due to open in mid-September, employing seven full-time staff.
It will be in the shopping centre’s new premium mall alongside other upmarket brands.
Jones said Lakeside had been on the operator’s wish-list for five years but added: “One of the challenges was finding the right place [in the centre] and they couldn’t deliver it until now.
“They have put premium brands together in a mall with a champagne bar. Turnover and footfall are expected to be big.”
The store could be the last out-of-town shopping centre location for a Kuoni store, Jones admitted. Last year it opened in Gateshead’s intu Metrocentre.
But Jones is confident there is plenty of growth potential for the brand on the high street.
“You would not want more than 50 on the high street from a visibility point of view but we still have only 27 [high street and out-of-town stores],” he said.
Increasing numbers of enquiries and bookings are coming to stores via Kuoni’s online ‘expert finder’ service, which enables customers to locate a destination expert.
“Most people who use this service find an expert in a nearby store and book an appointment. It means consultants aren’t just relying on footfall,” said Jones.
Kuoni has divided its 48 partner stores into three categories: Kuoni Premium and Kuoni Premium Light, which have set targets and are branded Kuoni; and Kuoni Select, which feature a Kuoni brochure ‘wall’.
Two agencies – Solar Travel in Solihull and Savvi Travel in Olney – have recently become Select stores, taking the number to 35. The names of two more Premium stores are due to be announced within days, bringing the number of Premium and Premium Light stores to 13. Two more stores are being sought to bring the total number of partner outlets to 50 by the end of this year.
Head of trade sales Amanda Darrington said: “It is a real vote of confidence in the brand.”
Kuoni is to trial a web-chat service to encourage more business from third-party travel agents.
The move is based on feedback from the trade, said Darrington.
“It’s a way for agents to contact us for more information,” she said. “We will pilot it and see if the feedback supports what we deliver.”
Kuoni hopes enquiries that start as web chats will lead to bookings.
About 20% of direct sales start as web chats, and Darrington said there was “no reason” trade business should be any different.
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