Boss of Virgin Holidays says results justify direct-sell move

Boss of Virgin Holidays says results justify direct-sell move

The boss of Virgin Holidays has said the operator’s business performance, brand awareness and customer feedback has fully justified the “difficult decision” to go direct-sell last October.

However, he did not rule out working with third parties in the future if there was a fundamental shift in travel agents’ business models.

Managing director Mark Anderson reiterated that Virgin Holidays took the decision to go direct-sell in October last year as it was not able to offer a consistent customer experience with third parties retaining clients’ data and remaining their points of contact.

Speaking as the company prepared for the launch of a new marketing campaign this weekend, he said: “It was a difficult decision to make but it was the right decision. The decision was never about saying that people in the trade didn’t give great customer service or add value, it was about how we operate in a way that is totally consistent and with the consumer at the heart.”

He added: “Customers booking through the trade were getting a totally different experience and those booking direct were getting benefits the others couldn’t, so it (switching off third-party distribution) was the right decision.”

Anderson said discussions had been held with partners before the decision to explore ways of providing a consistent experience for customers, but they were unsuccessful as they invariably focused on commission payments.

Asked if he would ever consider resuming third-party partnerships, he said: “If we were able to work in a true spirit of collaboration, where it wasn’t all about commission and it was completely customer-centric, then you would never say never.”

He added: “It is theoretical if models change and we were convinced the customer was getting the same experience whichever way they booked, but that’s not the position we are in at the moment.”

Anderson said the operator had “grown significantly” and was on track for a “phenomenal year” since adopting a direct-sell model.

He also pointed to research carried out by Hall & Partners, which indicated 28% of consumers who travelled long-haul had a preference for Virgin Holidays, an 11 percentage point increase on the previous year, and a 12 percentage point lead on its nearest competitor.

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