The formation of a first European division by Travel Republic parent dnata has brought offline conversion specialism under the remit of the leading UK online travel agent.
Speaking to Travolution this week after details of the new structure were announced, Ian Simmonds, joint chief executive of Travel Republic said having former Stella Travel Services UK brands Sunmaster and Travelbag under his wing will see a sharing of ideas.
The two retail brands, the former specialising in mainstream holidays sold over the phone, the latter a high street tailor-made long-haul specialist, were bought by dnata last year as part of the buyout of Stella.
A new structure for dnata’s UK assets was widely anticipated with dnata already owning Gold Medal, the formerly Thomas Cook-owned rival trade supplier to Stella’s Travel 2.
This has seen Simmonds made chief executive of dnata Travel B2C Europe (Commercial) and fellow Travel Republic boss Neale Chinery made head of operations.
As well as Sunmaster and Travelbag, Simmonds also takes on responsibility for Gold Medal’s Netflights.com, forming a formidable group of consumer-facing brands.
Simmonds said: “It’s really exciting for us because it gives us a much stronger position and the ability to just really work on bringing those brands together much closer.
“From a working relationship perspective we can start to share ideas. We have some great brands and some fantastic people in those businesses.
“We can start to share that knowledge more effectively, get the cooperation and shared knowledge and exploit the talent we have got to fuel growth.”
Simmonds said no decisions have been made on whether to consolidate technology or office locations and that he would be visiting the various bases of the brands in coming weeks to get a better understanding of each.
He said having a high street model in the group was something new for Travel Republic, but he said he expected “to get some really interesting observations and learnings from there”.
“It’s early days. I need to get much closer to Travelbag. I understand their shops perform really well and that’s a model that works really well for their business.
“What we need to do is listen to our customers and understand how they want to engage with us.”
Two travel firms reputed to be among the UK’s most profitable are Travelbag competitor Trailfinders and Lotus Group’s Dialaflight, which both operate an online acquisition but offline call centre conversion model.
“It’s not a one channel or one size fits all. Having all these channels is something that collectively makes the UK retail part of the [dnata] business a really exciting place to be.
“I keep hearing the most profitable retail space is Apple stores, they have managed to master that space incredibly well.
“There are some opportunities which are unique in high street presence, which a standalone Travel Republic would never have invested in.”
With technology synergies being the most likely early win from the formation of the group, Travel Republic’s technology chief, Adam Gill, has been given a broader remit as IT director of dnata Travel.
Simmonds believes all the brands will have their different areas of technical strength but Travel Republic’s in-house technology is what has powered the brand to prominence and could be beneficial across all four brands.
What is also likely to be beneficial is the combined strength of the group from a product and customer acquisition perspective and cross conversion opportunities directing the customers they do acquire to the most appropriate channel and brand.
“Collectively we can be stronger in terms of the voice that we have by working together and combining our spend.
“That’s useful in discussions with our partners and in terms of how we overcome some costs of acquisition. We are all competing for customers and we have an opportunity to make sure conversion is optimised.”
Simmonds described the new structure as the biggest change for Travel Republic in years and one of the most exciting opportunities in travel B2C retail.
Although this new consumer facing travel retail group has been formed less by design than by the dynamics of industry consolidation, what odds against it establishing itself as a real powerhouse not just in the UK but Europe as well?