Agents tell Juliet Dennis how operator’s trade launch could shake up industry
Following easyJet Holidays’ trade launch last week, Juliet Dennis examines what it brings to the market and gauges agents’ opinions
Travel agents have credited the launch of easyJet Holidays through the trade for providing a much-needed broader choice of mainstream holidays from more airports with an established brand.
Agents with customers near easyJet airports, particularly those in the south and not near Jet2holidays’ main departure bases, look set to benefit the most.
The operator’s entry into the mainstream market is also likely to provide competition to Jet2holidays, which agents have increasingly relied upon since the demise of Thomas Cook last year and Monarch Travel Group in 2017.
Midcounties Co-operative Travel is one of easyJet Holidays’ soft-launch trade partners.
Rad Sofronijevic, the group’s chief operating officer for travel, said: “This fills a gap in the market, particularly in certain areas of the country, such as Bristol, where Thomas Cook used to operate from and Jet2 doesn’t and where it has been more of a challenge to sell mainstream package holidays.”
Sofronijevic is confident easyJet Holidays’ launch will provide extra sales for the group’s agents, particularly from the airline’s strongholds such as Luton, Manchester and Liverpool.
And she said: “We don’t think it will detract from our relationships with other operators.”
Not Just Travel’s chief business development officer, Cherie Richards, said easyJet Holidays’ technology was proving a hit with agents, as was the geographical spread of departures.
“The southern agents within the group have embraced the product specifically as demand for such holidays from Gatwick and Bristol has been high,” she said.
Peter Cookson, group managing director of miniple Spear Travels, heralded easyJet Holidays’ entry into trade distribution for providing much-needed competition.
He said: “We need someone else in the marketplace to replace Thomas Cook and, to a lesser degree, Tui.”
But he warned Jet2 would be a “tough act to follow” thanks to its product range, in-resort care and representation.
“Price is the only way [easyJet Holidays] can do that,” he said.
Like other mainstream operators, easyJet Holidays will not offer price parity. Instead, it has costed in “higher commission” which agents can discount, if they wish, to compete with direct prices.
Chief executive Garry Wilson justified the move, saying he believed agents would bring easyJet a new set of customers, meaning there would be less need to compete on price.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, he said: “We offer higher commission and non‑parity.
“The value the agent can add versus the price they will sell [at] will help. I don’t think we will see much crossover.”
It is understood online and trade prices will differ by around 5%.
“Any more than 5% and I doubt we’d be enthusiastic,” said Bailey’s Travel owner Chris Bailey.
Spires Travel manager Paul Knapper said price parity “would have been a big plus” but added: “Having done some quick searches, the difference in prices isn’t too bad.”
Sofronijevic admitted agents were “used” to the lack of price parity among mainstream operators, adding: “If it’s small, we can manage that.”
With a rival new operator in the market, agents hope Jet2holidays will reduce its price differential so agents do not have to discount as much to price-match.
Cookson said: “There has been much criticism about Jet2’s prices for 2021, when we are trying to get customers rebooked for their cancelled 2020 holidays. They have promised us there will be a smaller differential between trade and web prices.”
Bailey agreed, saying: “I’d like to see Jet2 react.”
EasyJet Holidays’ focus is on city and beach breaks. Its planned expansion into ski, and to sell through other European source markets, are on hold as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wilson said: “We need to make sure we optimise ex-UK and beach and city product; we are a new product and will still grow.”
EasyJet Holidays has an Atol licence for 736,000 passengers, in addition to the airline’s own licence for 794,000. The figures compare with Tui’s licence for 5.55 million and Jet2holidays’ for 4.8 million.
Wilson said easyJet Holidays would review expansion for 2021 and move into new source markets in 2022.
He predicted hotels in future would be less likely to work with one operator on an exclusive basis – something Tui and formerly Cook used to their advantage – because of the risk it entailed.
In reference to Cook, he said: “Many hoteliers who were left high and dry [after Cook’s failure] and then found new contracts, will have been hit a second time [by the Covid pandemic]. The old model of hotels giving their whole hotel stock to one partner to distribute will become a thing of the past very quickly.
“They will try to have as wide a distribution as they can.”
All easyJet Holidays’ destinations are on sale from September 1 but this will be reviewed on a “daily and weekly basis”.
The operator has dropped some hotels which did not meet its Covid-secure guidelines and is lobbying the government to introduce travel advice for regions rather than countries.
Wilson said: “It’s all about the Canaries this winter and it really depends on what the government does on [travel] advice. There needs to be more-nuanced advice to make the most of what is left this year.”
Wilson said autumn and winter were currently “the big unknown”, with blanket travel bans on destinations only serving to “heighten the uncertainty”.
He said: “We can flex our capacity up and down accordingly.
“We will not force unprofitable capacity into the market. But the winter may be difficult.”
What do agents think?
Within an hour of easyJet Holidays launching, a travel consultant reported she had made her first booking and it was very easy to make.”
Cherie Richards, chief business development officer, Not Just Travel
“There is a case for easyJet Holidays from the airports less well-served by anyone else, be it Tui or Jet2holidays. Luton for example, would work for our Leighton Buzzard office. If, like Jet2, there’s a good support mechanism and efficient resolution of issues, then I’d be happy to sell them.”
Chris Bailey, Bailey’s Travel
“The options of a city-break supplier is a welcome addition to sit alongside the beach packages, and gives us a wide range to sell.”
Paul Knapper, manager, Spires Travel, Worcestershire
“EasyJet Holidays will provide us with incremental business and there is definitely demand for this winter and next summer, so this is good news.”
Rad Sofronijevic, chief operating officer, travel, The Midcounties Co-operative
“It gives our customers more choice – Jet2holidays has had its own way for long enough. EasyJet Holidays is a welcome addition to the market for sure.”
Peter Cookson, group managing director, Spear Travels