Admitting that the issue of online discounting was “deep-rooted in the trade”, he said it was something he wanted to immediately address once he started his new role this week.
“It’s been under review for some time because it’s all about being multiple-channelled and any tension between those channels is a problem if we are trying to say that Kuoni is all about great service.
“Customers find it jarring if they go into a shop having researched online and then have to effectively start negotiating on price. It’s plainly ridiculous to have agents having to compete with our other distribution channels.”
Jones said the online discounts that had been available on Kuoni’s website had made agents cautious about using the site at all - even the special agents’ section.
“We’ve done so much with training and with working with so many good independent agents through Tipto and Travel Weekly’s Aspire luxury travel club but the online discount was the one thing that kept standing in the way. So as hard as we worked on all those other things for agents, we were never going to get the full benefit until we ditched it.”
Jones revealed Kuoni was adding new functionality to its trade site that would benefit agents.
“We have a dynamic calendar that gives agents the latest price on any date, but it will now also show them the availability left and also if there are any Kuoni Plus special deals to be had. It’s this kind of thing many agents have been missing out on because of the blockage caused by our online discount and they will hopefully now feel comfortable using our site.”
Jones said agents would probably get a chance to convert more sales from the move.
“Having looked at the mechanics, we only need to deliver a small increase in conversion from out independent partners to make it all work.”
Travel agents welcomed the move to drop the online discount, calling it “the best news the trade’s had in years”. They urged other operators such as Hayes & Jarvis and Virgin Holidays to follow suit.
Nick McKay, director of Clapham-based Travel Designers, said: “This will start to send out the message it’s not always about price.”
Dave Criddle Travel homeworker Lynne Fuell said: “I would like to see other larger operators doing the same thing.”
But rival Hayes & Jarvis, owned by Tui Travel, ruled out a similar move. Clare Tobin, managing director of Tui Travel’s specialist businesses, said: “The trade has our best offers in the market anyway.”