The moment First Choice became an all-inclusive-only operator, the writing was on the wall for the brand as a standalone retailer.
The prospect that Tui would invest £8 million in rebranding First Choice shops as ‘Thomson featuring First Choice’ would have been inconceivable four years ago, when the two merged. But the previously fierce rivals have since become as one and the news about the rebranding went down very well among managers at this week’s Tui retail conference.
For those consumers who had picked up on the repositioning of First Choice, it was understandably confusing that the shops continued to sell anything, all-inclusive or not. And with the all-inclusive message set to be rammed home during the turn-of-year campaign, that confusion would only have increased.
The two Tui regional sales managers (RSM) for areas that will be most affected by the change, the southeast and the southwest, were positive about the move.
Jaime Vaughan, RSM for the Exeter region, which incorporates Devon and Cornwall – and herself a former Bakers Dolphin and First Choice employee – was really excited about the change.
“Since the First Choice repositioning as the home of all-inclusive, this is something we wanted to happen,” she said.
“I really wanted more Thomson representation in my region.”
The southwest has only four Thomson shops, so 25 of the 29 stores in the region will undergo the full rebrand, with First Choice interiors replaced with the Thomson colours.
One of two First Choice stores in Weston-super-Mare was turned into a Thomson store and Tui bosses said this prompted an uplift at both outlets.
“Customers are loyal to the people who work in the stores,” Vaughan said. “I have worked in the region for 15 years and we have the same customers buying from us as we did when we were Bakers Dolphin.”
Customers who once travelled miles to their nearest Thomson branch were visiting their new local Thomson to buy their holiday, having not realised First Choice would have sold it to them, Vaughan added.
Passion and pride
“If we’d have said we were rebranding two years ago the reaction possibly would have been different,” she said.
“But we are coming from a different place where the staff have a passion and are really proud of what we offer.
“There have been one or two funny comments, like I’m really going to miss my pink jacket, but it’s tongue in cheek.”
This view was echoed by Andy Jackson, RSM for the southeast. “There is now a huge opportunity to gain those customers who do not book with us,” he said. “The job is the same; the consumers are the same.”
The southeast has 16 First Choice stores and 10 Thomson outlets. Nine towns have both stores and agents there are worried about the duplication.
But Jackson said he believed those towns were large enough to sustain two stores. “In most instances they are far enough apart to work well together,” he said. “There is still competition on the high street, so we will take those customers into our shops.”
Taking customers from rivals is not the only expected upside of the rebrand: Vaughan also believes it will drive some people into stores who would otherwise book online.
“People who do not connect the two brands at the moment go online. We in the southeast have not really benefited from all the marketing Tui has done for a couple of years because it has gone down the Thomson road.”
The final positive to the rebrand, is the fact that much of the £8 million will be spent revamping many shops that need a facelift.
So travel’s pink army has gone and it seems First Choice agents have nailed their colours firmly to the mast and the future is blue, albeit with a tinge of pink.
“I do not see it as First Choice disappearing, I see it as getting both signs above the door,” said Vaughan. “I’m keeping First Choice – just adding Thomson to it.”
How the shopfronts will look
The colour scheme
Brand-focused ‘hero’ brochure racking