Kuoni will hold off on the launch of a full marketing push for its new bespoke travel brand Alfred& as it waits to see how the coronavirus crisis in China and Asia plays out.
The Der Touristik-owned upmarket operator launched the destination and experience specialist, initially focused on Asia, with no fanfare in January as part of its turn-of-year activity.
Derek Jones, chief executive of Der Touristik UK, said the plan was always to give its new Alfred& Asia specialists, who were hired for their specialist knowledge and authenticity rather than sales experience, a month to “find their feet”.
Kuoni has done some limited online marketing for Alfred&, and its team at the operator’s Dorking headquarters have “done brilliantly”, said Jones, having already taken around a dozen “really good, high value bookings”.
Speaking at the launch of Kuoni’s annual Worldwide Travel Report, Jones said the plan had been to immediately kick off with above the line marketing but the decision has been taken to “hold back” as the full impact of the coronavirus outbreak becomes clear.
However, he said: “I think the brand’s got huge potential. It helps massively that we have 50 stores and we have the opportunity to put this new product in front of our customer base.
“The Kuoni customers give us the volume to test delivery and to see if the brand stands up to its credentials. If we can make the model work through our own stores we can make it work through our partners‘ stores and independent agents.”
Jones said the concept for Alfred&, named after Kuoni founder Alfred Kuoni and signifying the experience as like being on first name terms with a destination, came from its purchase of Journey Latin America in November 2018. Kuoni’s stores have added £1 million worth of business to that brand since.
Alfred& is seen as having the potential of establishing itself as Kuoni’s tailor made specialist brand – it currently has Discover by Kuoni – rivalling the likes of Trailfinders and Audley Travel which have become known as deep destination specialists.
“Our stores are brilliant and we have fabulous travel experts in our stores, but we have seen with Journey Latin America there is demand for that level of expertise,” Jones said.
“My own personal view is we have lost market share in this category. We’ve been focused on stores and travel experts and we can’t have an expert on every single destination in every single store.
“Logistically we cannot, among our 250 retail staff, have staff who are as expert in particular destinations as certain competitors can have in their call centres.
“It’s the same with travel agents; they want to go through someone with that expertise. Trailfinders and Audley have carved out a much bigger business in that tailor made space.
“Even though Kuoni is seen as a tailor made specialist the reality is it’s a much smaller percentage of our business than beaches.
“This is a sub-brand of Kuoni. Kuoni carries a lot of heritage, a lot of reliability, a lot of security and a lot of the hygiene factors that are still relevant, but it’s also associated with luxury, honeymoons and weddings. We wanted to take the best of both, to change the model and it made sense to wrap a new brand around it. It helps that we’re not particularly big in Asia.”
Kuoni will sell Alfred& through third party agents and Jones said he expects it to produce trade collateral but not traditional brochures due to the bespoke nature of the products its experts put together.
Jones described the direct impact of coronavirus to date as “very limited” for Kuoni and there remains broader confidence in the marketplace, but he said there is concern that the outbreak may spread beyond China and it will become “more challenging”.
But he added: “We are well equipped as a multi-destination specialist and we are well-versed in knowing what conversations we need to have with our customers.”