Independent travel agents say Tui has “a lot of work to do” following a major shift in its approach to third-party retailers.
Agents gave a mixed reaction to news that the operator is increasing its trade relations team by five in preparation for its “biggest summer season” in 2024.
Tui chief marketing officer Neil Swanson said the enlarged team of 14 would “build relationships with independent agents and allow us to better understand our valued trade partners”.
The news represents a significant shift in Tui’s overall approach to working with independent agents, and follows years of sour trade relations dating back to its decision in 2005 to slash third-party agents’ commission earnings to 7%.
Agents cautiously welcomed Tui’s move but many stressed it would need to be backed up by an overhaul of its trade pricing strategy and improvements to its after-sales care before they would consider working proactively with the operator again.
We want price parity
Heidi Evans, director at Oasis Travel in Stoke-on-Trent, said: “We want price parity. On Tui’s website they will charge low or no deposits for direct clients, but if we book it the client has to pay a £200 per person deposit. How are agents meant to compete with that?”
Sutton Travel managing director Andy Tomlinson said staff at Tui’s contact centres often lacked the ability or product knowledge to make amendments or answer agents’ queries, adding: “Many of us who have been in the industry for decades have seen false dawns where Tui looked to work with agents again but never seemed to pull it off.”
Chris Bailey, managing director of Bailey’s Travel, said he had no plans to re-engage with Tui. “I’d trust Tui as much as I’d trust a Conservative government minister – not at all.”
It’s a great move
But agents already working more actively with Tui welcomed the move.
Leanne Williams, head of retail at Travel House, which has 16 branches in south Wales, said: “It’s a great move by Tui. It is one of the only operators with its own airline flying from Cardiff airport, making it our number-one tour operator.”
Paul Waters, managing director at Premier Travel, said the agency had a “relatively strong working relationship” with Tui but welcomed improvements. He added: “What we lacked was the frontline support [but] their proposed changes will help give this and better all-round support to our business.”