The boss of Tui in the UK has said that despite expectations after the dot.com boom that travel bookings would move entirely online, there is clearly still a place for high street travel agents.
Nick Longman, managing director of the Thomson and First Choice parent in the UK and Ireland, also backed a ‘remain’ vote in this month’s EU referendum.
Talking about holiday shops, he told the Mail on Sunday: “I think everyone thought it was all going to move online, but with the rise in long haul flights people do still want to have a chat about their booking.
“There’s difference in pricing between the two, so you are paying for the extra service, but we’re very upfront about that and you can always book online if that’s what you prefer.
“Thomas Cook is our direct rival, of course, but so are Booking.com and Hotels.com and the low-cost carriers, and we’ve been very pleased how we’re doing against them.”
Longman has been assessing the risk of a ‘leave’ vote on June 23.
“The tourism industry in the UK and the millions of British holidaymakers strongly benefit from the common European market and the UK being part of it and we as a company would like to see the UK remaining a member of the European Union.”
In the case of a Brexit vote, he said: “If Britain does vote to leave, there’ll be some things we’ll have to work through, such as aviation permits, staff issues, but we’ve done a full risk analysis and there’s nothing insurmountable that we wouldn’t be able to deal with.”
But he added: “From a personal point of view, I believe during the last few decades the European Union has become a pillar of stability in an increasingly complex world.
“While I don’t always agree with everything that comes out of Brussels, I would prefer if the UK stayed part of the EU under the terms renegotiated. In a globalised world, the UK will continue to be stronger, safer and better off remaining a member.
“The decision lies solely with the British people, so from a business perspective we trust in their vote and haven’t taken a proactive stance.”
Longman also supports last month’s court ruling saying that parents should not be penalised for taking children out of school in term-time.
“If it means holidays are staggered and flattens the peaks and troughs then that’s to be welcomed,” he told the newspaper.
“Hoteliers want to charge us more in the middle of July than June – that’s a simple matter of supply and demand. But if we can smooth that out that will be to the benefit of the consumer.”
He discussed the impact of terrorist attacks and the shift of capacity away from Tunisia, Sharm-el-Sheikh and Turkey towards the more popular destinations of Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands and Greece.
“Greece has been holding up really well,” Longman said. “It offers a fantastic holiday experience and even on some of the islands which are more focused on the migrant issue they’re doing well too.
“People aren’t being put off from going. I think the British tourist is pretty resilient and it doesn’t take a long time of there being no news for people to be much more comfortable about things.
“We’ve seen that even with Turkey. It has been quiet, but since our half-year results [published in May] we’ve seen bookings pick up every week.
“It’s a big destination for us and we’re seeing demand coming back. It is now very good value as hoteliers have reduced their prices. Obviously we direct holidaymakers to be aware of Foreign Office advice, but we also let them make up their own minds.”
Next year will see the biggest change for the company’s UK image in memory as the Thomson brand will be dropped in favour of Tui. All 600 High Street shops will be renamed.
Longman admitted the Thomson name carries baggage simply because of its age – an association with old-fashioned holidays.
“Moving to a new brand will help us broaden some of the products we offer under the TUI brand. But we don’t want to lose all the things that made Thomson great.”
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