At one point or another, we have all booked a holiday with a major tour operator. Beach vacations, city breaks and recently more and more individually tailored trips are accessible to more people than ever before. And tour operators are playing a major role in this.
Today we are talking to Tim Van Genechten from Thomas Cook Group – one of the world’s leading leisure travel groups with sales of £7.8 billion in 2015. The Group has many leading brands including Neckermann in Europe, Ving in Sweden, Condor in Germany and Airtours in the UK.
Tim Van Genechten is Group Head of Brand and Strategic Marketing at Thomas Cook Group and has worked in the travel sector for 18 years. We asked Tim about the latest travel trends, today’s challenges in the travel industry and a few behind-the-scenes questions which he kindly agreed to answer.
INTERVIEW with Tim Van Genechten from Thomas Cook Group
1. What is the favorite part about your job in the travel industry?
I’ve worked in the travel industry for 18 years and I have been able to explore a great number of destinations and enjoy many unique experiences as part of my job. This is obviously unique to working in the travel industry.
Next to that, our company is specialized in leisure travel and holidays. There is obviously nothing wrong with e.g. producing or selling refrigerators or diapers or washing powder but I find it personally much easier to be passionate about producing and selling the best days of the year to our customers and help them to create eternal memories. That has always made it very special for me.
2. What are today’s biggest challenges for a major tour operator like Thomas Cook group?
Our industry underwent huge changes in the past few years. The travel industry has been subject to disruption coming from different angles. The two biggest challenges for us today are (I) staying on the forefront in regards to technology and (II) selling on value rather than only on the price.
The travel industry has become extremely price-driven. As a tour operator we have to explain to customers that – although we are price-competitive – we provide them with a unique added value that gives them a level of trust and convenience that they will not experience when they organise the trip themselves.
3. What does Thomas Cook group offer that other tour operators do not?
It has become increasingly difficult to differentiate from the competition in terms of destinations or holiday types. Thomas Cook is the founder of organized travel (we are celebrating our 175th anniversary this year!) and we have always remained a pioneer and innovator, but everything gets copied immediately. We try to differentiate ourselves in providing the best value to the customer. Our main focus is on the client and we aim to ensure that our customers get a carefree experience. ‘Leave it to us, you’re on holiday’ is our slogan.
In comparison to several new entrants in the market, we are also much more than just a reseller. We are a real holiday maker with an integrated model where we serve throughout each step of your journey by providing personalized services. Customers not only plan and book their vacation with us, they also fly with Thomas Cook airlines, stay at one of our hotels and are taken care off by our own staff at their destination.
4. Do you scout out all the new hotels and destinations? If so, how do I apply for the job? 🙂
Yes, we do! One of the advantages of travelling with us is that all the accommodations that we offer are “hand-picked”. We have about 2,500 accommodations that are under our permanent quality monitoring program ensuring guests a flawless and carefree experience. These are popular jobs, but don’t underestimate it, managing quality on a permanent basis is quite tough.
5. What are the recent trends in the travel industry?
There have been more new trends in the travel industry in the past 3 years than in the 30 years before that! It’s difficult to list them all, so I’ll share one of my favourite new trends of the recent years – ‘glamping’.
Glamping stands for “glamorous camping”! To me personally, it is the perfect combination, the best of both worlds: on one hand being outdoors, the closeness to nature, the ambiance around the fireplace, the shared moments with your family, and on the other hand the comfort of an ensuite tent.
6. Are customers more demanding now than they used to be? Can you share a funny story with our readers?
Yes, customers have become much more demanding and they now also have the power via the social media. I believe that this is a good trend and I’m confident that we can continue to fulfil the expectations of our customers supported by our focus on quality.
Let me share one anecdote…
Once we received a complaint from a man who claimed to have a broken mirror in his hotel room. Together with his complaint, he had sent a picture of the broken mirror to our customer care department. Unfortunately, you could see the man himself in the mirror… without any clothes on!
7. How does social media influence your marketing efforts? Do you work with bloggers, for example?
Social media has a huge influence in everything we do, not only our marketing campaigns. We do work with bloggers; although there is room for improvement in this area! For example, we have recently invited a number of highly influential travel bloggers to Rhodes to support us with the launch of one of our new hotel concept brands, Casa Cook.
Customers trust the experience of other customers, such as yourself, a mom who shares her experience of travelling with young children. We cannot ignore this and have to embrace this more in the future as an integral part of our business.
8. What’s the busiest time of the year for travel bookings? And what do you recommend for families traveling with children during the peak – school holiday – season?
Travel bookings peak in the month of January (early bookings) and in the period from the last week of June until the first 2 weeks of July (last-minutes). Families with children often have to travel during school holidays. It is therefore best to book as early as possible to ensure that you have the best choice. To counter the perception that booking early could be more expensive, we have launched a price guarantee for early bookers.
9. How do you see the future?
The near future will remain challenging, let’s be honest about that. The disruption is still gaining momentum and the turbulence in the world will continue to affect us. I do remain positive, however. The Thomas Cook Group was the founder of organized travel and I’m convinced that we will be able to turn our unique 175 years heritage into a sustainable and successful future!
10. What’s your personal favourite travel destination and why?
I like many destinations and I love to see and explore new places. Destinations with the most beautiful nature and the natural wonders are on the top of my list.
My favourite holiday ever is my honeymoon trip to Canada and Alaska. I am not a morning person at all and my wife regularly tells me that the only time she can remember seeing me jump out of bed at 5:30 AM was when we heard the sound of a whale swimming past our cabin on board of the ship we were cruising on.
Thanks for your time, Tim!
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