Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
New horizons from your local airport – that is You‘s big sell for 2024. The destination screens at relatively small and humdrum UK airports will see some exotic destinations next summer. Try East Midlands to Sal in Cape Verde; or Teesside to Dalaman in Turkey; perhaps Bournemouth to Enfidha in Tunisia.
These new routes are just three of the dozens of new and restored links that Tui will operate between May and October next year as part of what it claims is its biggest-ever summer program. The holiday firm will add 1.1 million additional flight seats – a rise of 12 per cent on this year and 13 per cent on the last pre-pandemic summer, 2019.
Tui is addressing the traveller’s desire for accessibility and flexibility. People value flying from their local airport, and this expansion fills destination gaps at smaller locations such as Cardiff. Increased frequency means holidaymakers who want to trim their budget can go abroad for 10 or 11 nights instead of a fortnight. Conversely, some passengers may wish to squceeze every moment out of their sunshine investment, taking an eight- or nine-night trip rather than just a week.
Wider horizons serve the British traveler well, and an increased supply of seats means the price pressure that many holidaymakers are experiencing this summer may ease.
I believe that something else is going on, though: a turf war with a company that did not even exist 21 years ago.
Tui is unassailably Europe’s largest holiday company. But this year it lost its UK crown to Jet2 Holidays.
Jet2 Holidays is authorized to carry 5.86 million package holidaymakers over a year, almost 10 per cent higher than Tui UK.
When these Civil Aviation Authority figures were revealed in February, Tui’s chief executive, Sebastian Ebel, said: “We are not benefiting as much as Jet2 from the disappearance of Thomas Cook.”
The holiday firm originally set up by a Methodist preacher in 1841 collapsed in September 2019. Jet2 has evidently swept up many of the customers in search of a new holiday home.
A Tui spokesperson emphasized at the time: “The updated Atol numbers are based upon a prediction for the coming year.”
But Mr Ebel was more blunt. He said: “We are taking this challenge and want to grow stronger than our dear competitor.”
And this is the response: extra aircraft at Birmingham, BournemouthBristol, Manchester and Newcastle, plus two new planes at Glasgow.
An additional quarter-million seats to Spain and to Turkey, and 300,000 more to North Africa. Those numbers will alarm my flight-free colleague, travel editor Helen Coffey; they are also designed to cause dismay at the Jet2 Holidays HQ in Leeds. Those additional Boeings will mainly be going to airports already served by Jet2.
But Jet2 boss Steve Heapy insists he is sticking to the principles that has taken his firm to top place since the launch in 2003.
“Becoming the UK’s largest tour operator is a significant milestone in the history of Jet2 Holidays, but it will not change a single thing that we do.
“Our continued success is because we have the best team in the industry who work tirelessly to look after our customers, and we will never lose sight of that fundamental principle.”
Battles for market share are very 20th century. In the 1990s the big four tour operators – Thomson, First Choice, Airtours and Thomas Cook – fought intensely for a bigger slice of what was then a larger cake. For the holidaymaker keen on a bargain, it was the best of times.
But once the budget airlines easyJet and Ryanair acquired significant scale, the package market shrank. Airtours and Thomas Cook got together (and have since disappeared), swiftly followed by First Choice and Thomson (now Tui).
Package holidays remain the travel product of choice, because they come with so much consumer protection: basically, the firm is responsible for every aspect of the trip working as promised. If prices become more attractive, the traditional tour operator model could grow again. At which point easyJet Holidays, the package subsidiary of Britain’s biggest budget airline, is sure to respond. Summer 2024 is already looking intriguing.