Who are we really dealing with?

A look at the corporate 'who owns who' in the travel world and potential implications to the consumer.

I read with interest today that Hotel Plan UK has acquired from Holiday Break (a subsidiary of Cox and Kings) the great British adventure brand, Explore. I have always been struck by the peculiar nature of the travel business, its scale and how many of the companies are structured. We now live in a global economy where you are never really sure who owns who and who you are really buying from.

Given today’s news, I thought I’d investigate a few examples.

There is a really niche operator called Black Tomato. They have won all sorts of awards and have a really great reputation in the luxury travel market. On their 'about us' page, the story is of the three friends who started the company. It’s a cool story of success in the travel industry. Black Tomato also has an adventure brand, Epic Tomato (cool name), which do some seemingly pretty out there adventures including an 18- day trip to Mongolia from £9,000 per person. The interesting thing here (well, interesting to me) is that Black Tomato is owned by Hayes Tour Operating Ltd and operates as an agent for them. Therefore, essentially, you can buy a £9k Mongolian adventure from the same company selling a 7-night trip to Torremolinos for £350! I am not naïve, I know that supply chain and integration is easy in the travel business, however, this does seem just a little peculiar! No?

Explore is now owned by Hotel Plan UK, a company that owns a number of ski brands and other companies including Santa's Lapland. Hotel Plan UK in turn is owned by the $15 billion Swiss company Migros. Anyone who has travelled to Switzerland will know this supermarket / food retailer – they’re actually now the biggest employer in the country. And now, they essentially own a UK adventure travel company! Your adventure holiday to Costa Rica is being sold to you by a Swiss supermarket!

Another, perhaps more pertinent to us in the school expedition industry is TUi PLC.The number of ‘brands’ they own is epic (and, no, not Epic Tomato). If you look on their corporate site you can count them, if you are interested. Of their nearly 200 brands, they have a number in our sector, including the UK’s largest school expedition company, World Challenge.

When you buy a youth development trip with World Challenge you are buying your trip from an organisation which also sells clubbing trips to Europe under its ‘2wentys’ brand. Being part of TUi Travel PLC brings some benefits, but it also brings with it the strings of a multi international PLC and its associated shareholders.

Luckily for us, and you - in our opinion, although some might say we’re biased - when you buy a well thought out and well organised educational trip or school expedition from The STC you will be buying it from us. Guess who owns us……yup, that’s right, we do. Guess what else we sell? Nothing. We are not concerned with delivering shareholder value, only a great expedition/trip at a fair price. That’s a fair price to our customers and the good folk we use in country. Finally, before I get too vitriolic, before you book you next epic adventure trip, clubbing trip, week in Spain, or skiing holiday, just have a quick look and see who it is you are actually buying it from. Now there is an EPIC Challenge!