The boss of On the Beach says his latest “hairbrained scheme” – a new B2B agent portal running off the OTA’s technology – has the potential to achieve the same market share his booming B2C beach holiday platform has achieved since it launched in 2004.
Speaking to TTG after On the Beach’s £20 million acquisition of Classic Collection, chief executive Simon Cooper said the group would help the operator create a new online booking portal – Classic Online – giving agents exclusive access to a broader portfolio of beach product, as well as Classic’s four to five-star offering.
In return, On the Beach, which currently commands around a 25% share of the online short-haul beach holiday market, will gain access to the circa five million such beach holidays booked offline each year.
“We currently have a 0% share of passengers booking similar product offline,” said Cooper. “Why wouldn’t we want to access that market?”
Cooper said Classic Online would help agents to circumnavigate the new Package Travel Regulations (PTRs), which have made dynamic packaging “increasingly difficult”.
With Classic Online acting as package organiser, agents will be able to piece together complex bookings without the risk. “Dynamic packaging is a bit of a minefield,” said Cooper.
“The cost – insurance, contracting, health and safety – is much more. Insurance costs post-July 1 are up five to 10 times. Agents don’t want to swallow £50,000-£100,000 excesses.”
Cooper fiercely shook off suggestions the buyout was an unnatural fit and sought to placate prospective trade partners’ suspicions about the group’s first foray into the B2B sector, reiterating it would be business as usual at Classic Collection.
“Classic Collection is a popular B2B specialist that has been doing what it does very successfully for a long time,” said Cooper. “We have no intention of changing that.”
Cooper added those sceptical about the deal in terms of a mass market, online, B2C agent buying up a luxury, offline, B2B operator were wide of the mark, stressing the two companies’ focus on beach holidays made them ideal bedfellows.
He explained the ambition for Classic Online was to achieve a market share of offline beach holiday sales similar to On the Beach’s share of online sales.
Cooper said providing the group could build a tool that allows agents to convert enquiries they have not previously been able to fulfil into hard bookings, it would be difficult for other OTAs “to match the size and scale” of the group’s specialism, particularly after On the Beach’s £12 million acquisition of beach holiday OTA Sunshine.co.uk last year.
The group hopes to have a Classic Online prototype ready for soft launch by the end of the year, with a view to launching the new portal in early 2019.
“I’m fortunate to have a focused team around me,” added Cooper. “Everyone gets onboard with my hairbrained schemes – and then they make them work.”