Travel House owner Martin Morgan says it is time for the trade to fight back against major tour operators paying to bid on brand names of independent travel agencies on Google.
Morgan, who owns 26 agencies in south-west Wales, claims the tactics of major operators to use the Travel House name in sponsored links on Google will create a relationship of mistrust between retailers and suppliers.
Thomson Holidays and First Choice Holidays regularly bid on the Travel House name in Google and the Thomson Beach brand has used the Travel House name in their sponsored links to attract more clicks.
To date only one travel company – Teletext Holidays – has taken action in a similar dispute over brand name bidding.
Last week it won its second case against Directline, stopping it from paying for sponsored links using Teletext brand names.
Morgan, who sold the Travel House chain to Thomson’s parent company TUI Travel in 2000 for £40 million before buying almost half of them back in 2004, said: “There should be a relationship between operators and retailers and this isn’t helping. I am not anti-Thomson and I don’t want to be a whingeing travel agent, but I need to safeguard my businesses and my 110 staff.”
He questioned whether the bids on the Travel House name represented a return to the old days when operators chased volumes over margins. “Are they getting any returns by doing this? They seem to be trying to drive volume rather than profits,” he added.
Morgan says he has no intention of putting Thomson or First Choice on stop-sale as they make up the bulk of holidays sold through his high-street shops.
But he favours a nationwide campaign in which independent agents take action against the behaviour of larger travel companies by clicking on their sponsored links, costing advertisers anything from 10p to £1 depending on the bidding process.
Google typically cracks down on so-called “click fraud” activity immediately and the advertiser is not charged.
Morgan added: “I can’t afford to take legal action, I’m only a small travel agent and I can’t see any other way for independents to fight back.”
Thomson said it does not “actively bid” on any specific non-TUI brand names, but said the Travel House example was a result of working with affiliate advertising agencies.
Nathan Timmins, head of online marketing for TUI Travel, admitted the company would now be reviewing its policy.
He said: “The Travel House example is a result of affiliate activity. They are currently entitled to do this although we are revising the policy. We will, as a goodwill gesture, approach the affiliate direct and ask them to review their approach.”