Wednesday, 14 December 2011

More high street woe: Thomas Cook to close 200 stores

This morning saw the release of Thomas Cook's trading figures, which made particularly grim reading. The £430m of writedowns has pushed the tour operator into a full-year pre-tax loss. The group have so far managed to re-coup funds through the sale of stakes in Spanish and Mexican hotels, National Air Traffic Service and reduction in the size of its aviation fleet.

Thomas Cooks restructuring is likely to be felt hardest in the UK as the operator will attempt to turn round it's business through the closure of 200 stores. This is particularly bad for the employees of these stores but also for Britain's high streets.

Mary Portas has recently unveiled an action plan to improve Britain's high street's but the closure of travel agents on high streets may not be entirely down to the reasons which she gives in her report. Unfortunately the traditional model of visiting your travel agent to book a holiday has now become outdated. Customers are able to learn more online about destinations and hotels than ever before and also have greater confidence in booking online.

A survey conducted by Alihoco found that 92% of people aged between 25-40 were happy to book a holiday online without talking to anyone or entering a shop. The results are not surprising as by booking online you are able to book at any time of day, in the comfort of your own home and to also directly compare prices between rival companies. It is also likely that the operating costs of online travel agents are lower than high street chains and the online agents are able to sell holidays at a lower cost which is often ultimately the deciding factor for customers.

The situation on Britain's high street certainly needs to be improved, but sadly it seems that it will have to do this without travel agents occupying as much space in Britain's towns.