A prominent U.K. tour operator that operates direct-to-consumer retail stores is seeing a strong preference for in-person booking among customers. Another trend it reports is strong demand for celebratory travel.
Kuoni Travel, the U.K.’s largest outbound tour operator, has opened 21 High Street stores in prominent U.K. city center locations over the past three years.
Co-branding with Kuoni specialists
Protecting relationships with its travel agent specialists was important to Kuoni when choosing sites for its stores, Anne-Marie Hansen, Kuoni spokeswoman, told Travel Market Report.
“We have chosen high-profile locations to optimize brand visibility and raise brand awareness," she said. “It was important when choosing locations not to encroach on our supporting independent travel agents and we have been actively working with them to develop new partnerships,”
Four of the stores are co-branded with independent travel agents who are Kuoni specialists, she added.
Expert advice sought
Some 30% of bookings through those retail outlets are for celebratory travel – mostly honeymoons, according to Hansen.
“Customers tend to do a lot of research online, then come into the stores to discuss their details with an experienced travel expert,” she said. Clients want “to ensure they have got the best deal and the best options available to them.”
Each retail store is decorated with items from exotic locations and features lounge areas and interactive world maps showcasing destination videos, she added.
The stores provide an inviting atmosphere where customers can “watch a video on their chosen holiday and enjoy a glass of champagne,” Hansen said.
Where the customer wants to book
Kuoni sells only its brands and hotel accommodations at its retail outlets. The brands include: Kuoni, Journeys of Distinction, Kirker Holidays, CV Travel and Carrier.
With the retail shops, Kuoni is taking the brand and travel arrangements “onto the high street” as part of its strategy to be where the customer wants to book, according to Hansen.
“People have less time and want to book their travel arrangements how it suits them best,” Hansen said. “Yes, many of our clients book their holidays from our website, the most popular being the one- or two-center beach holidays.”
But booking in-person was one of four key trends among Kuoni’s high-end clientele, the company noted in its recent Travel Trends Report for 2012.
The report stated that customers are looking for expert travel advice, especially for their dream vacations to far-away places.
(See story "Brits Value High Street Agents – But Not All Signs Are Rosy," Feb. 23, 2012)