TUI’s Chief Marketing Officer Neil Swanson said the operator has seen ‘significant’ double digit growth through third party travel agents since introducing new commercial terms in October.
The new terms include higher rates of commission to enable independent agents to compete with TUI’s online prices.
Speaking at ABTA’s Travel Trends event in London, Neil said TUI’s own shops were taking a greater share of bookings post-pandemic, but he said the share of bookings taken by third party agents was up ‘massively’ since October.
He told Travel Gossip: “We are seeing significant double-digit growth since we introduced the new terms, and I’m not talking 11%, it really is significant. Admittedly that growth is coming off a low base, but it is growing.”
Neil insisted that, unlike in previous years, TUI is committed to selling through independent agents.
“I know they’re sceptical, I realise they’re asking ‘is TUI here to stay or is this just a flash in the pan’, but I’m hoping to build trust with agents and they can see that we are here to support them,” he said.
In addition to enhanced commission and an expanded trade sales team, which now sits at 17 staff, TUI is also planning to take agents on ‘a lot’ of fam trips in 2024. “We’re not stinting, we know the best way for agents to sell TUI is to experience the product,” said Neil.
“Third party agents are an untapped market for us, I don’t believe there is competition between online and retail anymore, people who are shopping in retailers want to talk to someone face to face.
“You go into travel agents and realise people are coming in with photos of their holidays, and gifts for the staff. It makes complete sense to offer our product in these shops.”
Anne Williams, Marketing Director of Inghams’ parent Hotelplan, said their own customer research showed more people were seeking financial protection and the reassurance of booking with a travel agent or tour operator since the pandemic.
“Pre-pandemic they were mid-table, but post-pandemic they are in the top three,” she said. “They know they will keep them safe and get them home if needs be.”
Neil Sealy, Managing Director of Exoticca, an operator that only recently started selling via agents, said sales were going ‘very well’. “Since we offer full price parity, why would you not book us through an agent for that personal experience?” he said.