Midcounties Co-operative is looking at opportunities to expand its travel retail network and online booking capabilities following a successful year for the group’s other divisions.
Beyond travel, Midcounties also comprises Co-op Funeral Services, Co-op Food and Co-op Pharmacy among others, the strength of which – especially a “very strong” performance for the food arm – during the coronavirus crisis has allowed the group to invest in travel, despite the tumultuous trading climate.
Just last month Midcounties acquired seven Carrick Travel branches and took on 16 former Central England Co-operative stores, taking its retail network to 78. It also revealed it was piloting a “Your Co-op Travel” brand name for its stores.
Phil Ponsonby (inset), Midcounties group chief executive, told TTG he was optimistic about the long-term future of the travel industry, with the market “not fundamentally broken”.
“We’re owned by 700,000 members and we talk to them a lot,” he said. “They see our travel business as an important part of our operation – booking a holiday is high up intheirpriorities and they want to book with us.”
Ponsonby said he was “not in the numbers game”, but revealed the group was considering further locations.
“Traditional Co-op market towns tend to be good for us and there are a number of those which no longer have a Co-op travel agency, so we’re still looking at those opportunities.”
He added: “I think we’ve been fairly one-dimensional in terms of our branch network in the past.
“There’s a big opportunity to be more flexible and develop different types of formats that perhaps reflect the locations and population a bit more.
Maybe there are some specialist high end agencies that are attractive to us.”
Ponsonby added Midcounties only took on the Central England Co-op and Carrick branches it felt “were viable for the longer term”. They’re trading now, with “no plans to change that”.
“We’re fairly optimistic things will improve next year and therefore as it stands they are viable operations,” he said.