Thomson signposts new holiday directions

Thomson is revising its destination board. It now includes short breaks in Iceland in deepest winter for the Northern Lights, and long haul flights to the Caribbean, Cape Town and Kuala Lumpur. The U.K.'s biggest holiday company has travelled far since the days when it was the first choice for a week of sun in the Mediterranean, and that was about it.

I revised my opinion of Thomson on an early morning flight last January (2016) into the deep dark of the northern winter. I was aboard one of the company's own planes (a guest of the company with a party of journalists), which was full of British people, mainly couples, taking a short break in Reykjavík, Iceland (and now given an extra boost by its summer 2016 football success).

I had assumed Thomson was still firmly in the family package holiday market. When I last took a holiday with the company, it was to Sicily, or maybe Malta, or southern Spain. That's where you always expected to see Thomson and its cheerful big blue jets.

But the company has been adjusting its destination board for some time, and three day trips to Iceland to see the Northern Lights and the snow-smothered glaciers in dead of winter – possibly the only snow and ice break that doesn't involve skiing – summed up the shift of direction. It was an imaginative choice of destination, even a little daring. But, judging by the winter’s bookings, it clearly worked.

This week (July 2016) Thompson, together with First Choice (it is part of TUI UK and Ireland, the U.K.'s largest tour operator), told us how far (literally, with families telling it they are happy with long haul flights) it is travelling in these days of a fast changing holiday market. Its list of new destinations include New York, Las Vegas, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Cape Town.

Holidays in the Maldives start from winter 2016. (The most searched for terms by customers on the Thomson website are New York, Vegas and the Maldives.) Dubai and Miami will join the list in summer 2017. It will be interesting to see how popular they become. The summer in both places, especially super-heated Dubai, presents one of the most serious climatic challenges available to the regular tourist.

Other destinations include Nice, Murcia, Corsica and Kalamata, and two new Caribbean island destinations, at the end of direct Thomson 787 Dreamliner flights, St Lucia and Cayo Santa Maria, a 'hidden gem off the coast of Cuba”. Thomson and First Choice continue to offer Mykonos, Tuscany and Puglia with partner airlines, on flights introduced for this summer.

At the launch on the 39th floor of the Heron Tower in London, managing director Nick Longman announced another important stage in this holiday company's evolution. By 2020 it will phase out brochures – it currently prints 4.7 million a year – in favour of new 'digital tools in retail stores which include technology that recognises customers as they enter a store.

The shop itself will, in effect, become a digital brochure, with interactive maps and immersive walls leading the customer into video content and free Wi-Fi to help them explore destinations, backed up with real human advisers.

And, at the end of 2017, the company completes is makeover, changing its name to TUI. | |

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