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Midcounties looks to open outlets in supermarkets

Midcounties Co-operative Travel is in talks with supermarket chains about opening travel outlets inside their stores.

The group is reviewing its retail estate and targeting “gaps” in locations close to East Midlands, Bristol and Birmingham airports.

Midcounties currently operates 55 stores, including a number inside its own supermarkets, and is aiming to operate 100 by 2019.

Chief operating officer Rad Sofronijevic said: “Opening inside our own food stores is an opportunity for us as it’s guaranteed footfall, so our first priority is to look at where else we can open a travel agency within our own estate and there are a couple in the pipeline.

“We know travel agencies within an existing retail outlet works, so we’ve also been having conversations with other retailers, specifically supermarkets, about doing this.”

Asked whether there were opportunities to buy some Co‑operative Travel stores from Thomas Cook following the ending of their joint venture, Sofronijevic said: “Cook has until next year to lose the Co-op brand so we’re not going to wait and see what happens. We are working on expansion through other avenues in the meantime.”

Midcounties also soft-launched a new website last week which it hopes will double its business over the next two years.

Currently, online sales account for 10% of the consortium’s overall travel business.

The site features new search functionality, a faster search with more choice and easier bookability.

Overall, sales at Midcounties Co-operative Travel are expected to reach £400 million by the end of the year.

That estimated turnover would represent a 9% increase on last year, while half-year profits were up 100%, according to Alistair Rowland, group general manager for specialist retail.

Twenty-two homeworkers have joined its Personal Travel Agents homeworking business this year, taking the total to 156.

Consortium reports 14% increase in turnover to £135m

The Co-operative Travel Consortium welcomed six new members in its last financial year and reported a 14% increase in sales. Turnover for the group was £135 million in 2016, while the total number of members now stands at 54.

The new members include Aquilium, Elsol Travel, Cruise2 and Destinationski. Existing members World Travel Lounge and Pure Travel have each opened second shops.

Three membership applications are being processed.

Head of consortium Alison Holmes said the main reason for the sales growth was due to members which joined last year becoming established and existing agents expanding.

However, Holmes said discounting was up slightly, from 2% to 2.4%, which she attributed to an increase in package holidays and competition with some suppliers’ direct-sell websites.

The consortium has refreshed its B2B website to feature videos and testimonials to attract new members. Work on the site will be finalised in the next two weeks.

Training webinars used by the Midcounties Co-operative Travel retail network will also be made available to members from November.

A new digital marketing suite is due to go live early next year, containing point-of-sale material and downloadable PDFs.

Group moots branding to attract indies

The Co-operative Travel Consortium is poised to offer independent agents the option of using its branding in a bid to attract new members.

Four independent agents from other consortia have approached Midcounties in the past month about the possibility of dual-branding their stores if they sign up.

Head of consortium Alison Holmes said: “Agents see the Co-op name as a trusted brand and would be keen to use it in their business, so it could be a proposition we go to market with.”

She said several members had also enquired about using the Co-operative Holidays name. Consortium member World Travel Lounge (pictured) added Co-op branding to its shop fascia after opening a store in Blackpool two years ago.

“The owner felt that, as a new business, customers would not know his brand, but by having the Co-op name on his shopfront it would give them confidence – and that has happened,” Holmes said.

The consortium recently launched a business-to-business website and this will soon feature a tab on the homepage to promote dual‑branding opportunities for new businesses or existing agents considering joining the consortium.

Cook chief values ‘customer fit’ over market share

Thomas Cook’s sales chief told the conference he is willing to lose share of the market for “quality” hotels and holidays.

Commenting on increasing competition from operators such as Jet2, Cook head of commercial, sales and relations Phil Gardner said: “Their growth has been aggressive. We have dropped hotels which made good money but that are not sustainable in the long-term.”

He said other operators still featured hotels that Cook dropped this year after they failed to meet its standards.

“We are focusing on the customer fit and quality,” he said. “Other people focus on a volume‑grabbing exercise.”

Asked whether he would be happy to lose market share for quality, Gardner said “Yes”.

He said Cook was “undecided” about increasing third-party agent commission to offset the ban on credit card fees from January. A few operators have pledged to raise commission by 0.5%.

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