Travel giant TUI Group is reaching out to Greece to boost its partnerships in the country’s market, by picking up the pieces left behind by its main competitor Thomas Cook, when the latter declared bankruptcy on September 23, resulting to thousands of stranded tourists and pending package holiday deals with hoteliers.
Since Thomas Cook closed operations, TUI representatives have been visiting the destinations hit by the tour operator’s collapse, looking to strike long-term partnerships with hoteliers that now face problems with lost bookings and low occupancy numbers. Before Greece, the team visited Turkey and it’s next stop will be Egypt.
“When the message came out that Thomas Cook went into insolvency, we went to the destinations to talk to our potential partners because many have lost quite a significant amount of money and more importantly they lost an important distribution channel – luckily at the end of the season – but there are still around six weeks to go,” TUI Chief Operating Officer Sebastian Ebel said on Friday. Ebel is responsible for TUI’s Destination Experiences, Hotels & Resorts, Cruises and Group Purchasing.
Speaking to journalists during a media briefing in Athens, Ebel said that TUI has already made deals with Greek hoteliers to take up the package holiday volumes booked for October and onwards that were left up in the air after Thomas Cook closed operations.
He also added that TUI is in talks for closing deals for next season, especially with hoteliers that were exclusively Thomas Cook partners.
“TUI is interested in striking long-term relationships with its new partners,” he underlined.
Aiming to reassure potential partners on what TUI wants to achieve, Ebel stressed that the company is interested in striking fair partnerships.
“Because a good relationship is one when everyone is happy in the long-term… At the end, TUI has to bring added value to its partners not only in difficult times but also in long-term,” he added.
However, it remains to be seen just how many out of the 1.4 million package holiday travelers / customers of Thomas Cook to Greece that TUI will actually be able to serve, as according to Ebel, the added capacity has become an issue due to the current aircraft shortage.
Securing airlift capacity
“Airlift capacity has become a real issue because many aircraft of Thomas Cook have been grounded and there is a general shortage in the market due to the Boeing 737 MAX issue… Hundreds of aircraft are missing,” he pointed out.
Highlighting the need to secure airlift capacity, Ebel said that especially for Greece, the issue is challenging because the country depends very much on carriers from its source markets.
“The offer we bring to the table is not only to market – in a very fair way – the beds of hoteliers who are interested, but we will also try to secure as many air seats as possible since we normally try to link the bed with the seat, as it would not help if you have a hotel contract and no airlift seats,” he highlighted.
Priority: Contracts with hoteliers
When asked if perhaps TUI’s plans for hotel investments may escalate due to Thomas Cook’s departure from the market, Ebel said that the priority at the moment is to launch contracts with hoteliers and not explore new investment opportunities.
“Greece has always been very important for us for investments. We very much believe in the country and through our partnership with Atlantica we have taken on very big investments… We do now see more opportunities than before but we will explore carefully first and then decide,” he said.
It should be noted that TUI is already in the process of increasing its portfolio of own hotel brands and concepts in Greece and now has a total of 49 units, after having added six new hotel units alone this year.
‘Greece made a strong comeback’
Referring to TUI’s performance in the Greek market this year, Ebel expects to close 2019 having brought some three million tourists to the country. He also mentioned an 18 percent increase in cruise ship stops to Greek ports. Greece also is a major destination for the 17 cruise ships of TUI.
“Greece has had a real strong comeback… Comparing Greece with 5-10 years ago, there have been alot of good investments, which was one of the reasons its recovery was strong,” he said.
“Greece is unique. It’s not a cheap family proposition but from a price-value proposition it’s outstanding and brings alot of charters,” Ebel added.
Ebel and his team also had a meeting scheduled for Friday with Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis.
During the meeting, TUI’s representatives gave the minister an update on the company’s current actions in Greece and underlined its intention to stand by the market.
According to sources, TUI’s representatives also touched on the issue of the need to secure slots at Greek airports to add more aircraft.
Also discussed were ways to further support Greece through destination marketing actions.