Tui has announced that it is to close 166 high street travel agencies in the UK and Ireland.
The move will leave Tui’s retail network at 350 shops. The stores that Tui proposes to close have been selected after consideration of local market data, consumer trends and predictions on the future of travel.
The travel giant, second in its high street presence only to Hays Travel, said it will create a new homeworking sales and service team.
Tui said 70% of 900 impacted roles will be moved into this team, and it aimed to protect UK jobs and mitigate redundancies by moving other affected retail advisers to vacancies across the remaining high street stores and closing overseas third party contact centres.
The locations of the shops that are closing are yet to be confirmed.
In May, the wider Tui Group announced it was to reduce overhead costs globally by 30%, with approximately 8,000 roles impacted and continue with its programme of digitalisation as it anticipated Covid-19 would be the travel industry’s “greatest crisis ever”.
Tui said it carried out a review of UK customer booking behaviours, before deciding to close the 166 high street stores in the UK and Ireland.
Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui UK and Ireland, said: “We want to be in the best position to provide excellent customer service, whether it’s in a high street store, over the telephone or online, and will continue to put the customer at the heart of what we do. It is therefore imperative that we make these difficult cost decisions, look after our colleagues during such unprecedented uncertainty and also offer a modern customer service.
“Customer behaviours have already changed in recent years, with 70% of all Tui UK bookings taking place online. We believe Covid-19 has only accelerated this change in purchasing habits, with people looking to buy online or wishing to speak with travel experts from the comfort of their own home. We have world class travel advisors at Tui, so we hope many of them will become homeworkers and continue to offer the personalised service we know our customers value.”
Earlier this month, and before the UK government’s decision to remove Spain from its list of ‘safe’ countries, Flintham said Tui was aiming to reopen all of its travel agencies.
He also said there was a cross section of customers so loyal to high street travel agents that they did not push for their refunds for cancelled holidays until they could visit stores after the Covid-19 lockdown measures were relaxed.
The TSSA union, which represents staff in the travel trade, reiterated its calls for government support for high streets in reaction to the news.
General secretary Manuel Cortes said “We have been warning for weeks that high street travel shops could become a thing of the past unless the government took urgent action to help our industry navigate this crisis. Today’s announcement by Tui means that ministers must sit up, smell the coffee and act without further delay.
“We need a bespoke package of measures to save our travel industry. I call on Tui and other employers to engage with our union so we can jointly lobby government for this to happen.”
Webcast: Tui’s Richard Sofer [June 2020]