Travel agents have broadly welcomed Thomas Cook’s renewal of the Airtours brand, but warned the operator to remain “up front” with the trade.
It comes as Cook’s new UK and Ireland managing director Chris Mottershead revealed a raft of changes, including plans to drop a number of its third-party suppliers, as well as ditching its Let’s Go! slogan.
Cook announced the relaunch of the otherwise languishing Airtours brand at the end of December in time for peaks, with Mottershead revealing to TTG that Cook had ploughed “several millions of pounds” into a new marketing campaign for the business.
The revamped Airtours, which was once one of the largest tour operators in the 1990s, now offers destinations including Spain, Greece and Mexico with regional departures and exclusive hotels with a minimum three-star rating on TripAdvisor.
It will target budget-conscious couples and young families. Mottershead admitted the brand had previously lacked “a significant presence on the high street”, but said Airtours would now be closely aligned with the company’s 258 Co-operative Travel shops. It will also target third-party agents, with both Barrhead Travel and Hays Travel agreeing promotional deals.
“It’s a major brand, and we want to reboot it,” Mottershead told TTG. “It’s around 40% of what we do… It had zero investment for years, we’re making a statement now.”
Britaly Travel partner Daniel Broccoli applauded the decision to give a boost to Airtours, but urged Thomas Cook to be honest and “up front” with the trade. He said: “They say they want to bring travel agents back on side and we could do with a product like that, but once they have built it up I don’t want them to leave us again.
“People like the Airtours brand but people liked Virgin Holidays. It was agents that made Virgin Holidays and now they’ve pulled away from us.”
Kinver Travel owner Sue Foxall also welcomed the move and said it coincided with a consumer shift to using agents again, even for basic bucket and spade bookings, which typically tend to be made online.
Baldwins Travel director Nick Marks agreed: “They’re [Thomas Cook] probably competing with… Jet2holidays. I presume they’re trying to get that business back. It’ll help to have a bit of competition for the regional travel agents.” The change comes as Cook also announced it is losing its Let’s Go! slogan which was introduced under Harriet Green in 2013.
A spokesperson admitted: “[The slogan] was a good match previously in the context of the turnaround of our business, especially internally to rally all the employees.
“Externally however, it was never used in a consistent way across all markets for different reasons.” He added that the operator’s Sunny Heart symbol was being adopted across the group instead.