Omnichannel sales

TUI wants to use travel agents' customer data for direct offers

TUI CEO Fritz Joussen recently visited German travel agencies to see their work at first hand.
TUI CEO Fritz Joussen recently visited German travel agencies to see their work at first hand.

TUI plans to make holiday offers direct to German consumers by using travel agents’ customer data as part of its omnichannel sales strategy.

Online travel sales have soared in Germany in recent years and about 42% of Germans booked their holiday online last year, according to TUI figures. Yet the tour operator market leader continues to sell the bulk of its holidays through its own and third-party travel agencies, with direct online sales still only relatively small.

Faced with this rapid growth by online rivals, TUI now wants to team up with travel agency sales partners and ask permission for access to their extensive customer data. TUI Germany’s sales director Hubert Kluske recently announced that the company wanted to integrate travel agencies into its omnichannel strategy.

“The traditional business relationship between tour operators and travel agents is changing massively,” TUI Germany regional manager Dirk Thielecke told some 750 travel agents at the company’s sales event TUI Inside on Tenerife last week.

In future, TUI wants to send holiday offers directly to the agencies’ regular customers, and prominently feature the name of the travel agency for the booking. This has already started in the company’s own travel agencies, with franchise partners to follow and then independent agents.

Michael Münssinger, TUI’s sales manager for South-East Germany, explained: “This is about having a pool of information in order to make customised individual offers.” For example, TUI could make specific offers if it had information about a customer’s preferred destinations and local activities.

“We are offering travel agents the chance to follow this sales strategy together with us. Each agency must decide for itself if it wants to take this path,” he added.

But travel agents at the event had mixed reactions, although many showed understanding for the company’s omnichannel approach. “I’m worried that customers who get advertising online would then book online and not with us,” said Birgit Schmidt, from the TUI Travelstar travel agency in Sinzheim. “A lot of trust has been lost recently.”

An emotional debate already broke out a few weeks ago when TUI made it obligatory for travel agents to insert the customer’s mobile phone number in the booking details so that they could be contacted in case of emergency.

Münssinger admitted: “It’s understandable that some people are worried about changes.” But he suggested the current market situation is causing concern. “The industry is changing. The cake is not getting bigger, and that makes a lot of people worried.”

However, there was a quick response to TUI’s move from the head of one of Germany’s largest travel agency networks. Thomas Bösl, director of the RTK network, said travel agents should retain control over their data. “Customer data stays with travel agencies,” he declared.

But the long-serving executive agreed that early direct communication with customers was “an important element for success”. He suggested two variations: either tour operators contacted customers directly but integrated their sales partners; or travel agencies should contact customers proactively and integrate tour operators as partners.

For the past three years, for example, RTK has successfully used a mix of digital sales analysis and personal counter staff knowledge of customers to send out direct offers to customers, he pointed out.