Word that retail travel giant Thomas Cook could begin closing 200 travel agency locations round the U.K. as early as mid-March is bad news for Cook employees, but good news for independent and business travel agencies looking to expand.
A ‘major score’ for independents
“For the independent market, the closure is a major score, a major opportunity,” Ken McNab, managing director of The Travel Company Edinburgh and president of the American Society of Travel Agents in the U.K., told Travel Market Report.
“Some of that business will go to the Internet, but most of it will go to other agencies, improving their volume. It will make them more effective in business terms.”
Union says 661 jobs at risk
The retail closures were announced in 2011 when Cook acquired The Co-operative Travel, then the U.K.’s number three travel retailer. The acquisition gave the combined company about 1,300 retail locations.
The closures are expected to include a mix of Thomas Cook branded locations as well as Going Places, Co-Operative Travel, and Midlands Co-operative outlets.
It is clear that some Cook employees will lose their jobs as retail locations close, but it is not clear how many will be unemployed or for how long. The union representing Cook employees said 661 jobs were at risk. The jobs at risk are a mix of travel agents, support staff, and agency managers.
Cook has not commented publically about job cuts.
Promising market for good agents
“The people who were good in the business and had built up relationships with their customers over the years will be able to find a job. There is still a desire for good quality staff out there,” McNab said.
But, he added, “the people who were not very good at their job will have no confidence in themselves and no idea of where to find a new job.”
McNab said his agency could be in the market for an extra agent or two in the coming weeks. The biggest opportunity could be in the business travel sector.
Competition for corporate agents
A business travel boom has sent employee benefits soaring over the past year as agencies and travel management companies scramble for new hires and to retain existing agents, said Anne Godfrey, chief executive of the Guild of Travel Management Companies. (See story,” TMCs Sweeten the Pot for U.K. Biz Agents,” Feb. 13, 2012)
Competition for experienced agents is so fierce that business travel agencies are even beginning to overcome their traditional reluctance to hire leisure travel agents, Godfrey said. GTMC is co-sponsoring in-house training programs to help leisure agents make the switch to business travel.
Big distinction between leisure and business
Leisure and business are even more distinct in the U.K. than in the US. Leisure travel is largely about price, while business travel is more about service, according to McNab whose agency handles travel for a number of banks based in Edinburgh.
“For the financial industry, it’s not a case of trying to save a few bob on a ticket,” he said.
“They want quality service, they know they need quality service, and they are willing to pay for quality service.”