We launched the TUI UK and Ireland annual trends report today. I've been involved in projects for TUI for more than a decade and this organisation never ceases to surprise me. Working for them once a year is a bit like being a maiden aunt who is guaranteed to irritate her small nieces and nephews by proclaiming how much they've grown, or changed. Well TUI UK and Ireland has grown and changed and the company I saw this year has been transformed from the business it was just a year ago.
It's been two years since the merger of First Choice and Thomson. The first year involved the hard technical process of structuring two businesses together. But over the past year there has been a quiet internal revolution. I knew the business was looking to become customer focused. But you hear so many companies say that's their ambition. How could a giant like TUI UK & Ireland deliver that when they send 5.5 million people overseas every year. Surely the giant would be too hard to change?
Well the answer is no, the giant has changed. I'm sure there is still a huge job to be done, but culturally every part of the business I spoke to understood why they were changing, had a clear vision from the top to make changes and were all really inspired by the new company direction.
So what's different? In the interests of putting the customers' first they've cut hundreds of hotels out of their programme based on the results of customer feedback in questionnaries on online. They've invested heavily in training despite the recession and have established a UK customer board that vets business decisions against customer interest. They have changed the way customers can get access to information before they travel with more independent online reviews, the ability to email representatives in resorts and call with questions no matter how small. This summer they have been trialling new services at airports to make it easier for customers to get help and advice in the event of a delay and they've changed transfer times from hotels so an entire plane load of people don't all arrive at an airport at the same time. These are all small things. But if they change the experience of the person going on holiday it could change the way we view package holidays. Customer satisfaction in areas where Thomson and First Choice have been trialling new services has shot up. If people are happy then they're more likely to be loyal and rebook.
Here's a snippet from the trends report
Consumers are fed up with organisations not listening to them and, while they value other consumer opinions, they may not be taking the opportunity to be heard themselves. That's according to the results of a nationwide survey launched today in the annual trends report published by travel leaders Thomson and First Choice. The report includes the results of an independent online survey completed by 1,000 people* which found that just 3% of us think organisations listen to us enough, 61% feel we are listened to "sometimes" and a resounding 36% say organisations never listen to us. Unsurprisingly, political parties and banks come in for the worst consumer scorn as the sectors least likely to listen to people's needs. Best sectors are supermarkets, restaurants, high street shops, hotels, regional media, tour operators and national media. Organisations such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Premier Inn, Amazon, the BBC, Thomson, BA, 02, Lloyds TSB and the Conservative party were all volunteered as the best in their field at listening to people.
But are people too reticent to give feedback? Thomson and First Choice's independent online survey and an additional online survey of 800 of their own customers found considerable similarities with regards to how people share information about a travel experience. About six out of ten have written a complaint about a previous travel experience, seven out of ten have across all forms of travel, completed an organisation's satisfaction form, but one in ten said they gave no feedback whatsoever to their travel provider. Similarly more than half the survey respondents said they read online forums to research their holiday, but only a quarter of people say they've actually completed a review. Demot Blastland managing director TUI Travel, UK & Ireland the parent company of Thomson and First Choice which sends 5.5 million people abroad every year said: "We were very surprised to see how few people think their voices are heard by the companies and organisations that are set up to serve them. But if one in ten people aren't giving any feedback at all things won't change as fast as they could. We want to encourage more people to give feedback on their experiences- whether it's good or bad, a small or a major point."
Thomson and First Choice undertook the research into consumer attitudes as part of a long-term initiative to drive the businesses according to customer views and needs. Dermot Blastland continued: "We know, compared to some industries, our own sector hasn't had a good reputation for listening and this is something we're looking to change. But we would like to change on the basis of more travellers' views. We can encourage that with research programmes and embedding independent review sites within our own company websites, but ultimately we want British travellers to be even more vocal about their experiences."