From ABC to i-pad Part 3 The Rise and Fall of the Package Holiday

Package Holidays actually began with Thomas Cook over 160 years ago but this was still for the elite few

The pile them high sell them cheap package holiday as we know it began in the late sixties with Lunn Poly, Thomson Skytours, Clarksons and Cosmos. They were a few thin brochures on the shelves with 7 or 14 night holiday to Spain, Italy and Yugoslavia. You could either fly from around £69 per person or go by coach from £29 per person. Brochures were a lot less stylish and sophisticated than they are today always had a lot of yellow and red gaudy messages on the cover with prices from £29. In the early seventies many people who had only ever gone to Clacton or Bournemouth suddenly wanted to go to Spain. The problem was that hotels were quickly built to meet demand with no thought to style or design. In those days we picked up the phone and called the tour operator to book the holiday. The price in the brochure was exactly what you paid and life was dead simple.

It is hard to believe that customers would buy a square deal. All they knew was the airport they flew from, where they were flying to and the grade of the hotel so Gatwick to Palma and then where you would end up was a complete mystery. I once heard of a client who was expecting a ski holiday in the Sierra Nevada and flew to Malaga at night only to wake up in the morning to a beach on his doorstep. We laughed about it for years but the customer wasn’t amused

By the time I went back to retail in the mid eighties nearly everything was booked on viewdata initially through Prestel and later through the more stable broadband. The giants Thomson and Thomas Cook still to this day use viewdata as their prime booking system within the industry. One reason is that it is cheaper to operate and other is that it is actually more flexible and easier to load. What a huge tour operator with a web based system cannot do yet is offer a range of available or alternative dates, nor can it find a way of booking twin centre holidays very well. Viewdata is primitive and unattractive but it is a very stable and efficient booking system. The downside is that if you do not have a brochure you cannot see the hotel. This may seem ridiculous now but in the eighties we still did not have Windows or any web based systems to refer to, therefore we had to make absolutely sure that our last file copy did not accidentally walk out of the office which meant that by the end of the season if we had managed to actually hang on to our file copies they were very tatty.  Some time later, faxes became widespread and then we were able to get a faxed photocopy from another shop

In the mid eighties, really cheap holidays to Greece in very basic accommodation became very cheap and a video machine was installed in our shop. We used to play Sunmed videos of the Greek Islands over and over again which were enticing to watch but Zorba the Greek did get a bit wearing after a few months and when Sunmed inevitably went bust selling £99 holidays to Greece, I inherited the videos and taped over them. I probably still have them in a box somewhere upstairs

Around this time a company called Intasun launched a white brochure with a brown scantily clad cartoon model with blonde hair. Every year she got a little darker and her hair became blonder but they were really the company that first introduced long haul destinations to the package holiday market and made them affordable. We flew to Florida on my birthday in 1986 and took the children to Disneyworld and Epcot. This cost us about £1600, now it would just about cover the cost of the tax for four people. They also introduced Thailand as a new destination amongst others. They introduced Turkey and others followed . The problem was they grew too fast and acquired Lancaster
and Global holidays to become ILG (International Leisure Group) and they collapsed in 1991

A small northern company called Airtours introduced charter flights as far afield as Hawaii, Acapulco,Phuket and even Sydney but although very cheap, there is a limit to the level of discomfort customers will suffer and I don’t think anybody ever did these journeys twice. They also made cruises affordable and although basic they were fantastic value for money

The early nineties proved very challenging for the industry with the Yugoslav wars effectively removing once the third most popular destination for British tourists permanently, and the Gulf Wars emptying shops for months. This led to the first in a series of very unpleasant redundancies. It took the industry a long time to recover from the Gulf Wars but itchy feet won the day and the industry bounced back

Since then, many tour operators have come and gone, hundreds of new destinations have been introduced,  most of those tired cheap and cheerful hotels from the early days have had a facelift and most have been upgraded by at least one star. There are thousands of hotels and hundreds of destinations to choose from, places that only 30 years ago we only dreamed of. This generation can literally put a pin in a map and decide where to go, they have grown up with a sense of adventure and jumping on a plane is second nature to most of us.

The latest threat to package holidays has been the recession and the growth of low cost airlines with easyjet in particular flying to almost all of the package destinations. It has also been a growing trend to go to more than one place. I sell virtually no single centre two week holidays now. 14 nights has become 10 nights and 7 nights has become 5.

Customers have become more sophisticated, more demanding, more choosy and more difficult to please but that is where DIY is very dangerous and 40 years experience in the travel industry can never be replaced by the click of a mouse. The other danger with DIY is the lack of financial protection or support. Customers no longer expect a rep in a uniform to tell them what to do or where to go in resort but at the same time it is nice to know that if anything goes wrong, there is somebody to turn to

It is the quality tour operators that provide good service and knowledge as well as a competitive price that have triumphed over the sell so cheap they cannot possibly survive, proving that although technology is now vital to our business model it must only be used alongside a successful customer service model to have a future




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