Pronouncements regarding the ‘death’ of high street travel retailing in the UK were clearly somewhat premature; as shown by the news that a rival is set to buy 555 of Thomas Cook’s stores.
The move by Just Go Travel operator Hays Travel has the potential to save a substantial portion of the 2,500 retail jobs that were lost when the well-known chain failed.
Acquiring such a large number of physical retail sites flies in the face of the ‘pundits’ who announced that booking holidays in bricks and mortar outlets was a thing of the past, and that travel retailing had moved inextricably online.
Why did Thomas Cook fail?
Hays, which is often lauded as the UK’s largest independent travel agent, will increase in size almost fourfold when it adds the stores to its existing portfolio.
So, if Hays Travel is ready to grow its high street presence, why couldn’t the UK’s oldest travel company sustain its holiday retailing arm?
Abta chief executive, Mark Tanzer, put forward his view on Thomas Cook’s demise, saying it was “more a failure of corporate finance than a failure of travel”. The firm is believed to have been around £1.7bn in debt to banks and £1.3bn in debt to suppliers when it ‘shut up shop’, leaving around 1 million retail customers abroad or with money tied into holiday bookings.
How will customer confidence be affected?
It could be argued that the collapse of such a well-known travel brand further eroded confidence in booking holidays, at a time when Brexit and austerity have already suppressed this industry.
However, could this much-talked-about insolvency also lead to an even greater swing towards online shopping for holidays and flights?
The answer has synergies with the way that all UK retailers with physical stores are cashing in on shopping ‘experiences’ that can’t be replicated by ecommerce.
Which is why the relationship between Hays Travel and the former employees of Thomas Cook is so crucial.
Much of the outcry was about how friendly, local travel agency staff found the store doors shut. The publicity about reemployment opportunities for redundant staff has been extensive.
Therefore, there is a strong likelihood that by reinstating Thomas Cook staff in community-based travel stores, local people will show their support by giving them custom.
Providing a personal, responsive and friendly travel retailing service on high streets could even grow new legs in some places!
Not least, as there will always be holidaymakers who love to flick through glossy brochures with store staff, and who place a high value on a personal relationship with shop staff.