YESTERDAY STEPS, the Spanish travel trade fair in London, ended on a positive note but many in the trade admitted during the event that a serious amount of work needed to be done in order to bolster the holiday market this year. Peter Long, Chief Executive Officer of travel company, First Choice, gave the most pertinent analysis of the current state of the holiday market and the serious problems facing tour operators, in his face-to-face interview with travel industry Analyst, Michael East. In a refreshingly honest interview, he admitted that the arrival of the no frills airlines had put even greater pressure on European tour operators already stretched to the limit by two years of downturn as a result of global catastrophes. However, he felt that instead of attempting to duplicate what the low cost airlines were doing, tour operators should learn from their successful and simple formula of offering the customer greater flexibility and allowing them more independence in the way they made their travel plans. In a climate of uncertainty where tour operators have seen a 20 percent drop in business as a result of the Iraq war in just the last eight weeks, he stressed that now was not a time for complacency or panic but for travel companies to reappraise what they were offering the customer in terms of value for money and choice. He further stressed that the growth of low cost airlines was a great wake up call for the travel industry as a whole and that valuable lessons should now be learned from their position of strength. However, he was quick to point out that although many independent travellers like the ease and speed of Internet booking together with appealing prices, few realise that low cost airlines are not bonded. By comparison tour operators held their clients hand throughout the whole process from booking their holiday through to offering a warranty. He said that two thirds of First Choice's customers only went on holiday once a year, and they wanted advice, protection and value above all. Those travellers booking directly with the no frills airlines lacked the protection and on hand expertise and guidance of a ground handler when things possibly went wrong. The other big challenge for tour operators, was in his opinion the strengthening Euro which would push prices up and create a bigger challenge than the current war. Looking at this year's figures, Peter Long said that market was down by 10-12 percent compared with 6-7 percent in 2001.
This year's overall performance looked good in culminative figures showing Bulgaria up 80 percent, Turkey 20 percent, Spain 14 percent and the Baleares up 10 percent. In summing up Peter Long stated that the travel industry was going through a very tough time but hopefully lessons would be learned and that the market would gradually improve. He concluded that it was up to the travel companies to differentiate what they offered in comparison with low cost airlines, and this should be based on service, flexibility, product and warranty.