Anthony Leung, Head of Corporate Finance & Treasury at Thomas Cook, examined how a tour operator adapts to new market trends by launching new resort brands and investing in hotel properties on our From the Tour Operator's Perspective interview at MR&H 2018. Read below for his Q&A as he shares two interesting trends: a shift back to the Eastern Mediterranean countries including Turkey and Tunisia, and a slowdown in Spanish locations especially in the Balearics. 

1. How would you characterize the overall state of resort investment and development in the Mediterranean region?

At Thomas Cook, we’re seeing two interesting trends: a shift back to the Eastern Mediterranean countries including Turkey and Tunisia, and a slowdown in Spanish locations especially in the Balearics.

2. What is the main challenge facing the traditional tour operators?

The main challenge we face like everyone in the holiday industry is continuing to stay relevant to holidaymakers. It’s no longer sufficient to just put a generic seat and bed together.  People’s choices now are much greater and more than 50 years of mass market leisure travel means generations have been brought up holidaying around the Mediterranean and have no fear about booking non-traditional package holidays.

We’ve focused our efforts on personalisation by launching initiatives in our [own brand] hotels such as Choose Your Room and Choose Your Favourite Sunbed that allow guests to tailor their holiday experience to suit their needs. We also launched Casa Cook to attract a new type of customer who are looking for a more boutique lifestyle hotel – it worked as more than three-quarters of our guests at Casa Cook were new to us last year. This month we opened Cook’s Club which strips back the classic beach hotel to focus on the things that matter to a new generation of travellers: modern design and interiors; great food and drink; music that builds the atmosphere from day to night and all at an attractive price. We expect to attract a similarly-new audience as we achieved for Casa Cook and aim to have 10-15 Cook’s Club hotels by next summer.

3. How are you working to engender customer loyalty at Thomas Cook?

For the past few years we’ve used the measure of Net Promoter Score as the benchmark of quality and customer satisfaction. That strategy is paying off with new customers and repeat customers up 12 per cent and 6 per cent respectively over the past year.

4. Who are Thomas Cook's greatest competitors: the hotel operators or the OTAs?

The leisure travel market changes rapidly and the rise of OTAs has added additional choice to holidaymakers – especially opening up new accommodation options and the ability to choose locations that might not previously have been accessible.

5. How hard is it to find suitable sites to buy in the developed markets?

We are seeking established hotels in prime sun and beach locations that we can refurbish to become one of our eight hotel brands. Because of our many years of long established relationships with hoteliers and having an active team on the ground in our key destinations we are in advanced talks regarding several sites at the moment.

6. Where, for you, is the most exciting emerging market?

Our relationships in Turkey are opening up some exciting opportunities for our own-brand hotels. We can see the enthusiasm and interest to open innovative and premium hotels that offer top-quality accommodation for our customers. We’re seeing strong growth this year for the destination after a few low years and would want to continue to see further developments that entice more customers to enjoy holidays in Turkey.  Although Spain and  Greece will continue to provide the core of the opportunities.

7. Do you see more independent hotels joining Thomas Cook?

We want to continue growing our own-brand hotel portfolio adding quality hotels with partners who want to innovate and grow with us. We are also rigorous in deflagging under-performing hotels and so we are always looking for new partners to maintain our portfolio of around 190 hotels. We work with groups and individual hoteliers – the key is their attitude to continual investment and innovation.