Independents see opportunity in First Choice rebrand

Independent agents are expected to benefit from Tui Travel’s decision to rebrand its shop network ‘Thomson featuring First Choice’. Tui announced the move to 800 shop managers at its annual overseas retail conference in Portugal on Monday.

Over the next two years, £8 million will be spent rebranding all First Choice shops with the Thomson brand. First Choice stores and staff will take on Thomson colours in the shops and uniforms. Work has already started in the south. Only the 40 First Choice superstores will remain as they are, although these already have a multi-brand look.

Miles Morgan Travel owner Miles Morgan said consumers shopping around for quotes would be more likely to visit an independent as they no longer will visit a Thomson and First Choice store.

“It makes it much more transparent and I think independents will view this positively,” said Morgan, former sales and marketing director of Thomson. “It doesn’t make sense to have two brands – it’s too expensive. I don’t understand why they didn’t do it sooner.”

Advantage chief executive John McEwan said: “The surprise is it took as long as it did. Thomson as the overarching retail brand makes sense.”

A senior industry figure said Tui Travel’s decision to merge the two high-street brands was “inevitable”, but added: “Thomson has never been able to manage two brands. Look at Sky Tours and Portland.

“There is an argument about marketing and keeping down costs but keeping two distinctive brands on the high-street gives more options; you can have different marketing messages, more flexibility, different product ranges and offers. It’s like owning Sainsbury’s and Asda.”

The source claimed it was possible the First Choice brand could be axed in a few years’ time. “Thomson is the number one brand. In two or three years’ time they could just have the one brand including a Thomson all-inclusive brand [for the current First Choice product]. The danger is that you slowly end up with a business that is smaller.”

Kathryn Ward, Tui retail director, told Travel Weekly: “We are doing this is to future-proof many of our shops. Some of our First Choice managers have said to me is there any chance we can have both brands.”

There are concerns about what will happen in towns with two Tui-owned shops, although distribution director Nick Longman said no closures were planned due to rebranding, however stores’ leases and the size of the retail estate were constantly being reviewed.

Morgan said having more than one Thomson branded shop in a town would not be an issue if the shops were profitable. Only a small number of Thomson agencies were so close to each other on the high street for there to be any trading challenges, he added. “If a shop is profitable there is no reason to shut it,” he said.

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