Tui Travel’s online sales in the UK have surpassed inhouse sales on the high street for the first time, though the firm said its shops remain “very important”.
The owner of Thomson and First Choice reported web sales reached 39% of the UK total in the 12 months to September, up from 38% a year ago.
Inhouse high street sales accounted for 38% in annual results published this week. Call centres made 8% of sales, with 15% through third parties.
A spokeswoman said: “The high street remains one of the biggest booking channels for Thomson and First Choice and we sell roughly the same number of holidays online as we do in store.” However, she added: “We do anticipate a further shift towards the web.”
The group was unable to identify the proportion of third-party sales through the high street. It said high street staff contribute to call centre sales as calls are often rerouted to shops.
The results showed record UK profits of £149 million – up 17% on 2010 – with a 6% year-on-year rise in UK revenue.
Tui Travel UK managing director Dave Burling said: “There is a tendency to think online growth is faster than it actually is. Retail is still very important.” He added: “More and more customers use a combination of channels. They have to work together.”
Asked whether the online growth could lead to shop closures, Burling said: “We move over a cycle, not abruptly. We have no big plans for changes in shops. We constantly review and will look at sales and follow the trends. But we are investing in and rebranding shops.
“We are keen to support sales growth through third parties,” he added.
Referring to Tui’s SplashWorld, Sensatori, Holiday Village and Couples hotels and resorts, which now make up 47% of Thomson and First Choice holiday sales, he added: “We are keen to know how to get third-party retailers behind our differentiated product.”
Burling said: “There is an opportunity for some retailers to sell more if they understand the product thoroughly.”