Despite recent investments in online technology, Thomas Cook says customers are still reluctant to book online and bricks and mortar remains its core channel.Thomas Cook managing director of sales, Chris Onslow told TravelMole: “Bricks and mortar is still by far the biggest channel and will be next year and in the next five years.
Mr Onslow was speaking at the EyeForTravel “Strategies for Distribution” conference being held at WTM. He told TravelMole: “We were one of the first to invest in dot com but now we are letting others overtake us.
“Online business is a very, very small percentage of what we do. It is a small growing area, and although we have to change and we have to offer it, retail is our DNA.”
He added: “The customer will demand it [online] when they want it and when they do want it en mass we will give it to them.”
Mr Onslow added that the web is increasingly being used as a source of holiday information. He said: “Dot com is growing as a research channel. Consumers are searching the web at home, printing it out and bringing it to the shop.”
According to Mr Onslow a number of factors are stopping consumers booking - the desire to speak to someone face to face when booking a holiday, the difficulty of booking complex itineraries and the concern over security of paying online.
He added: “We are the largest foreign exchange provider in the UK - it is still one of our biggest retail businesses. No-one has really captured foreign exchange online - there are too many issues about security, delivery of money and so on.”
He added: “We have leases of 20 or 25 years. People think real estate value is going down, but if you try and buy a retail outlet in a prime spot - not in a new shopping centre or some white elephant development out of town - it will be hugely expensive. We are not about to give up this huge advantage.”
Despite saying online remains a small proportion of business, Thomas Cook has recently invested in updating its website to incorporate OTC’s dynamic packaging technology.
Reacting to Mr Onslow’s comments, OTC sales director, Vic Darvey told TravelMole: “You have got to remember they [Thomas Cook] are still a tour operator and at the end of the day their main focus will be on the distribution strategy for their main products.
“As far as the dot com side is concerned dynamic packaging is going to be a huge part of what OTC and Thomas Cook do together. It is not going to be replicated through retail because it is not what they are trying to do on the high street.”