Tui has brought back around 800 staff to work behind closed doors at its high street shops following higher-than-expected demand since the roadmap announcement.
Travel agency staff were put on furlough when the third lockdown forced Tui to shut all its 362 shops in January. It currently has 1,400 staff working in retail – 800 at its shops and 600 from home. In total, 1,700 staff remain on furlough.
Speaking at the Travel Weekly Future of Travel Spring Forum, Tui UK managing director Andrew Flintham said the firm had struggled to cope with the surge in enquiries since February 22.
He said: “What we saw was a spike in demand and service queries that we couldn’t manage. We weren’t expecting that pleasant surprise.”
Staff are back in shops to take calls and work on queries and bookings, although doors remain shut to the public.
Flintham said Tui’s stores would reopen in line with other non-essential shops on April 12, the current date set by the government, but did not rule out future changes to the size of the retail network.
The company shut 166 Tui shops last year, affecting 900 roles. Of these, 50% moved to a newly created homeworking sales and service team. This will be retained post-pandemic.
Flintham insisted shops remained the “best place” for customers to sort out any problems or ask advice, but added: “We will still have a large homeworking team.
“That’s fundamental for us going forward, not a one-off for the pandemic. It’s a hybrid model.”
He said it was a case of “wait and see” in terms of changes to customers’ shopping behaviour, but stressed: “We’ve got a really flexible approach. If we decided we needed less shops in the future, we’d more than likely need that workforce to deliver in a different way.
“We’re still planning on having the same number of customers.”
Flintham added that sales of Tui products through third-party agents had held up “at least as well” and in some cases “slightly better than our own retail”. Distribution through third-party agents remained “relatively small” for Tui but “disproportionately important on certain products and areas”, he said.