Monday, February 12, 2007

Why the Thomas Cook-MyTravel merger was always going to happen

The timing might have come as a bit of shock, but nobody seriously doubts the reasoning behind today's announcement that UK-based MyTravel is to merge with its German-owned rival Thomas Cook.

Indeed consolidation appears to be a theme for the travel industry in the mid-2000s, with the GDS sector shrinking last year - in terms of ownership - following the acquisition by Travelport of Worldspan.

[December cover feature on future of the GDSs here]

That particular deal followed the massive shake up of the online travel agency market in 2005 with the £577 million purchase of by Sabre and that of Ebookers for £201 million by the then Cendant group (now Travelport).

[Interestingly both Sabre and Travelport are now in the hands of private equity groups]

So now we have the Big Three, rather than the Big Four in the traditional sector.

This is clearly the biggest story for quite a few years in the industry, but people shouldn't be surprised.

The pre-packaged, so-called bucket and spade holiday market - the core part of the traditional UK-Europe holiday business - is in decline.

All four operators have attempted - with varying amounts of enthusiasm and success - to diversify into areas such as dynamic packaging and city breaks.

However there has been a huge question mark for years as to whether the new and vastly empowered consumer base - kowtowing to the freedom the web has given them - would be able to support four companies.

Today's announcement supports this view...

Even with extended product ranges and impressive websites coming on stream, consolidation has never been a question of "if" but "when".

The most likely merger was probably always going to be between Thomas Cook and MyTravel - both have operated their businesses in similar ways and have not particuarly digressed into new areas.

So where it gets interesting now is how the Big Three will operate as businesses.

First Choice is increasingly moving into the long haul market; Thomson will be counterbalancing the drop in pre-packaged sales by actively pushing its new strategy of uber-dynamic packaging, using a combination of its own aircraft, accommodation and third parties suppliers, including other accommodation and flight providers.

As for the Thomas Cook Group, which it says will now be the number one travel company in the UK, expect the company to not drop its focus on its pre-packaged holidays - like Thomson - and make a major push on its short-haul business.

[Read the opinions of some city analysts on the Guardian website]

[Download the KarstadtQuelle AG presentation here (PDF)]

The next question, of course, is this: what is next for the online-only outfits? Rumours are still circulating about what Expedia should do next...

Kevin May, editor, Travolution


Darren Cronian said...

Hmmmm interesting times ahead. What impact do you think will have on consumers? If any.

Anonymous said...

You say the most likely merger was between Mytravel and Thomas Cook.Exactly when did you predict this? Anyone can have 2020 hindsight. Consolidation was always likely ,it has been predicted by travel bosses themselves. Beyond that , nobody knew anything!!

Travolution Blogger said...

Anonymous: you may - or perhaps not, in this ase - have noticed that the tone of the article was in fact written with 2020 hindsight.

"The most likely merger was PROBABLY [our emphasis] always going to be between Thomas Cook and MyTravel."

We do not say we were predicting it beforehand. Just that it actually made sense once the deal was completed.

I trust this clears up any confusion.