Thomas Cook’s chief digital officer says tour operators will survive and thrive in an increasingly digital world but said the role of its bricks and mortar shops could change.
Speaking at the 2017 Travolution Summit, Gilles Despas said Thomas Cook is “definitely looking at what is the purpose of our retail shops and call centres” in the future – following recent closures amid an ongoing review of its store network which has seen at least 45 shops shut in the last year.
“Retail and face-to-face can be a risk, a lot of businesses these days have nothing to collect or touch,” he added. “But Thomas Cook has a strong brand and people play a big role in that brand.”
Along company lines, Despas said bricks and mortar shops were still pivotal to Cook’s strategy, adding: “We do try to direct people into the store, but not enough. We need to get better at omni-channel. We are not selling one or two nights in Madrid for the weekend. If you buy one holiday for one or two weeks once a year, who don’t want it to be wrong.”
He also said that “there’s a lot more demand for additional information that technology today doesn’t allow you to put on a website”, such as specific room details, which he said was “difficult to bring that in front of the customer at low risk”.
Amid the onslaught of competition from online aggregators, Despas said Thomas Cook’s “strong brand, especially in the UK, will convince customers to come back.”
He added: “The big online players are just doing a portion of the customer journey. There’s still a big space for the tour operator going forward if they focus on their strengths rather than copy the others.
“Our business is very different to Booking.com or Expedia. That’s why we are still in business despite their success.”
He championed Cook’s Choose Your Room option, launched in September, which the company says adds personalisation by allowing customers to decide exactly where they are staying ahead of their holiday.
“I think one of the most demanding requests from the customer is to know exactly what kind of room you will get before you arrive,” he told delegates when asked why Cook went down that road.
Another innovation he was keen to highlight was Cook’s The Holiday App, which he described as a “companion” which can be used to book seats or meals on flights or talk to the rep before arrival.
“We want the customer to be always in touch with us or the hotel at every point in time,” he said.
But Despas was keen to stress that Thomas Cook “don’t use technology for the sake of it”, adding: “We need to first of all know whether it’s serving the customer before we hire a bunch of data scientists and give them the resources.”