With hindsight, the clues had been there for some time. Spotting them unexpectedly on the high street. Flashy new outfits. Avoiding your phone calls. Yes: Virgin Holidays has been playing away for quite a while.
But for those that supported the operator in recent years, despite its own retail network reaching a massive 111 stores, the dumping of third-party agents this week has been a bitter pill to swallow.
I’m sure V Hols will not have made the decision lightly, and must be convinced it is the best future strategy for its business. But it has also raised several questions. Will agents also boycott sister company Virgin Atlantic? How will the forthcoming Virgin Cruises fill its ships without the help of the big cruise retailers?
And the week after Tui UK launched trade-only Travelmood – recognising the potential of third-party agents – what is so different about Virgin Holidays that it too cannot make third-party retailing successful?
Agents have understandably felt betrayed. I was particularly tickled by Garstang Travel’s pledge to bin all of Virgin Holidays’ brochures: the travel industry equivalent of burning all your love notes from the boy who’s been seen kissing some girl from the year above behind the bike shed.
So if you’ve been left feeling unloved this week, my relationship advice would be this: it’s Virgin Holidays’ loss, and you can do better.
Consider Belleair Holidays, whose directors tell us in an exclusive interview how the business has been remodelled to enable agents to sell more.
Then there’s Travel 2 and Gold Medal, who tell us exclusively that despite being sister companies now, they will categorically not reduce on-the-road support and fam trips.
And finally, Kuoni managing director Derek Jones explains, in his inimitable style, why at Kuoni, the love for agents is stronger than ever.
So as you see: plenty more fish!