Thomas Cook will invest in new technologies to create content to promote its product like virtual reality as the role of the traditional brochure declines.
Speaking at this week’s Phocuswright Europe conference in Amsterdam Gilles Despas, group chief marketing and digital officer, said brochures will reduce in number.
He stopped short of declaring the end of the brochure as rival Tui Travel has done, but said the firm wanted to produce more magazine-style and inspirational content.
He said virtual reality had been much-hyped and that Cook had made mistakes in the way it has introduced it into its stores but it was continuing to invest.
“If you want to go into virtual reality you have to go in for quality. You have to invest money. If you do it, do it right,” said Despas.
Thomas Cook is working with some of its hotel partners and specialist virtual reality agencies to produce content.
Despas said the return on investment was related to the question about the future of brochures in retail.
In the UK, where Cook has 80% controlled distribution, he said the brochure would be scaled back and more focus will be put on forms of digital promotion.
“There will be a transformation, but not overnight,” he said. “With the web you have a lot more possibilities. It’s time to move on and be a lot more inspirational.”
Despas said Cook has increasingly fewer customers that exclusively use its 750 stores in the UK with most also going on line.
He said mobile was also a big focus with more than half of traffic in the UK now coming from phones and tablets. He said 40% of online booking are made on smartphones.
“The biggest challenge for us is smartphones. It’s been a long journey, it did not happen overnight, we have had to put a lot of resources into it but it’s starting to pay off.
“But it’s also a transformation of the consumer who is now researching and booking on smartphones. People are actually booking this more complex product.”
Although Cook has taken strides to consolidate and control its supply of hotel beds by working closely with suppliers to get exclusive rates and availability, the firm has also adopted a more flexible tour operating model.
“We have evolved in terms of business model so it’s not just our hotels with our flights,” said Despas.
“The reason for that is to give choice to the customer where we do not have flights or destinations where we do not have hotel content. That’s an extension of our model.”
Despas said firms like Thomas Cook are under pressure from online competitors like booking.com, Expedia and the low cost carriers.
But he said it was important to adapt but keep the best of the tour operator model which means all properties are vouched for as safe.
“You have to keep the best of the tour operator model but take the best of the flexibility of the new models that are here now. There is a question mark around the tour operating model.
“We have to prove that there is a good place for those consumers who are travelling more and more but who want assistance, want a 360 degree customer experience and companies that know their hotels inside and out but at the same time provide the flexibility that OTAs are providing.”