Q&A: How will Thomas Cook’s closure of its Irish office mean affect the market?
The popularity of tour operators has waned but they are far from doomed
While tour operators have a future, the model which has served them well for generations is doomed Photograph: AP Photo/Michael Probst
What impact will Thomas Cook’s departure from the traditional charter holiday market in Ireland have?
Probably not very much. While some commentators have claimed its exit will drive prices up as demand suddenly and unexpectedly exceeds supply, the reality is most of those who would have booked with it this year will simply go elsewhere or go the DIY route and book their holidays on the internet.
DIY? Isn’t that what everyone is doing now?
Well, it is what a lot of people are doing. A decade ago well over one million package holidays were sold to Irish people. Last year the number of holidays booked through traditional tour operators was less than 400,000. Meanwhile, the numbers using self-styled low-fare airlines and hotel booking websites have soared.
So the tour operators are doomed, are they?
Not a bit of it. Falcon Holidays had a very good year last year – and was equally upbeat about its prospects for 2014 at a press briefing this month. Its British parent, TUI – which also owns Thomson and First Choice – reported profits climbing by nearly 20 per cent last year, with 84 per cent of its summer programme sold out. For its part, Thomas Cook reported a return to profit last year,
So why is it shutting up shop? While tour operators have a future, the model which has served them well for generations is doomed. The glossy brochures with small thumbnail images of resorts and impossible to decipher pricing details are on the way out as people use websites for more – and better –information.
Indeed, the very idea that people ever queued patiently in an office in the depths of winter waiting to book a holiday will seem hilariously anachronistic in a decade’s time.
Thomas Cook is migrating its business online. While its business may be sound, its high street presence is on much shakier ground.
But if you can do it yourself for cheaper, why use tour operators?
Well, for a start they are a pretty hassle-free way of arranging your holiday. You get everything organised for you from your accommodation to your holiday insurance to your airport pick-up. If anything goes wrong while you are abroad there will be reps on hand to help out – or at least that is what you are paying for.
There is still a lot to be said for having someone meet you and take you to where you need to be when you arrive at an unfamiliar airport late at night with cranky children in tow.
The extra charges imposed by many short-haul airlines – particularly at the height of summer – also puts people off going it alone. Say what you like about tour operators, their charges tend to be clearly outlined from the outset.