Tui decision could see shops become billboards for its online business, says Miles Morgan, managing director of Miles Morgan Travel

After many years of talk, will we finally see the good old brochure bite the dust? Tui has signalled that it will gradually phase out brochures by 2020. But will it? What impact might it have? And should we care?

As market leader, it is bold to come out with a plan four years before you intend to complete it. I’m not sure why it was announced now – maybe an element of ‘get the message out and gauge the reaction’. Tui could always change its mind.

With technological advances, brochures have not been needed as much for a few years. Despite this, many fear dropping them. Why?

Rainy day tradition

Leafing through the holiday brochures in front of the fire on a rainy Sunday in January is somewhat of a tradition. You can, of course, do this online but the experience is never quite the same. In a similar way, e-shotting has not fully replaced traditional direct mail – people like a piece of paper.

Tui will counter that its staff will be able to print a personal copy of what the client is interested in, which is even better. My thoughts are that the brochure is used at the beginning of the booking funnel, when clients are in wider research mode and want to look at as many options as possible.

I find it ironic that I opened my boutique agencies with no brochure racks to indicate that I was different from the traditional high street agencies such as Thomas Cook or Tui. How strange it would be if I had to put them back in to indicate the same.

It’s interesting to hear that Tui will continue to rack third-party brochures in its own shops. Whenever agents are busy, the thought that potential customers have access only to those brochures to take away will surely have those operators rubbing their hands together with glee. This could need a little adjustment.

Third-party relationships

The other interesting question is, what, if anything, it means for Tui relationships with third party-travel agents such as me. I feel we might find out when we see whether the online brochure printing that will replace the current brochures is also rolled out to ourselves. If not, it is yet another sign of the potential end being in sight of third-party sales.

It would be fair to say that with no brochures and associated distribution costs, low commission levels and no client discounts, third-party sales could well be Tui’s lowest cost-distribution channel – perhaps, ironically, it’s a reason for it to grow this sector of sales. And pigs might fly.

I am delighted with Tui’s move. It puts further clear daylight between what my agencies offer compared with Tui. This will further position us as the serious travel agency, and Tui’s shops (with the greatest respect to its staff) as simply a high street billboard and a customer service centre for its online bookers. Happy days!

Clearly, the next instalment could be Cook following suit or a Tui U-turn. Whichever it is, yet again it shows there is never a dull moment in our industry.