08 October 2010

UK Retail Downsizing Continues

It has been more than 15 years since the effective start of the Online Travel era. Arguably that started in late 2005 with the launch of Preview Travel and Travelocity's businesses.

Today we see a significant move in the UK which cements the decline of the retail high street market. UK Adoption of the web for travel purchases already among the highest in Europe has been accelerating in recent years.

In the mid 1990s we (collectively) predicted that Europe would follow the US by about 5 years in online adoption. Two things have actually happened.

1. The profile of web usage in Europe is vastly different
2. The adoption curve has been slower and longer

Today the Coop Travelcare group and Thomas Cook's retail operations are being combined into a single entity. Coop has the largest independent travel group after the big two. Thomas Cook is the smaller of the big players that used to number 4 which is now two.

In the past 15 years we have seen some spectacular failures in travel at all levels of the distribution chain from the supply side (think XL Airways which went bust in September 2008) to Tour Operators (Think Goldtrail which went out of business this year) to retail (Think Harvey World UK which went into Administration in June of 2009).

The pace of the closing of retail stores is reflected somewhat in the UK ABTA numbers

30/9/10 Travel Agent members 986 with 3806 branches = 4792 outlets
30/9/05 Travel Agent members 1397 with 4727 branches = 6124 outlets
30/9/00 Travel Agent members 1826 with 5222 branches = 7048 outlets
30/9/95 Travel Agent members 2263 with 4705 branches = 6968 outlets
30/9/90 Travel Agent members 2940 with 4265 branches = 7205 outlets

However this is masked by a change in the rules a few years ago when the category of small agent was opened to allow more people to join. but as can be seen in 20 years a drop to one third of the number of members. The definition of outlet has also changed over time.

We can now expect another wave of consolidation and shutting of storefronts in the UK at the same level as the USA experienced about 10 years ago. This can only mean that the same will apply to other markets' retail location based businesses. So if you run a retail business - beware. The change is coming.

Its sad but its progress. Perhaps this will finally kill off Viewdata!

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