THE new Co-operative Travel Trading Group is planning to invest at least £ 18 million next year to strengthen the Movement ?s position as the UK's largest independent travel retailer.
The announcement comes on the back of a steadily rising Co-op share of the overseas holiday market throughout 2003 ? now almost 10 per cent ? and the launch of CTTG, which has taken charge of buying and marketing on behalf of the travel businesses of the Co-operative Group, United, Midlands Co-op, West Midlands and Leeds societies.
Mike Greenacre, CTTG's chief operating officer (pictured), says the five businesses are gearing up to invest "across the piece" to meet emerging travel sales trends in the year ahead.
Areas singled out for investment attention by the businesses behind CTTG include branch network expansion and refurbishment; new technology ? particularly to help in the dynamic packaging of holiday components ? and business acquisitions.
"No-one should doubt that the Co-op plans to invest in this business for the long term," he explained. "In a marketplace dominated by vertically integrated travel groups, our independence and the trust people put in the Co-op brand will continue to work well for us.
"CTTG has come a very long way in a relatively short space of time," he added. "We've made excellent progress in our commercial negotiations with suppliers and work is advancing well on the first co-ordinated CTTG marketing campaign to be launched in January.
"The formation of CTTG has already helped enormously in underpinning the strength of the Co-op's travel business and we fully intend to capitalise on the new opportunities it gives us in 2004.
"The Group has established good working relationships with tour operators, who generally recognise the great business potential in a strong partnership with CTTG."
The Group has formulated a commercial strategy under which co-operative travel agencies will sell holidays from all four vertically integrated tour operators as well as promoting "Operator of the Month" deals. It expects to conclude contracts with the majority of suppliers next month.
Mr Greenacre sees another challenging year ahead for the travel trade in 2004. "Quite apart from the international security situation, public uncertainty over interest rates is unlikely to be helpful to sales," he said.
"The travel industry is going through major change in the way it operates and technology is having a significant impact on channels to market," he added. "This makes the formation of CTTG particularly significant and timely, especially as the group is well represented in all distribution channels.
"We have already overcome some difficult hurdles to build CTTG as a strong organisation ? I believe we are exceptionally well placed to succeed in what will unquestionably be another very challenging year for the industry.
"Despite all the talk about independent travel, there is a great opportunity for tour operators to send a strong message both to the industry and consumers that brochured package holidays will continue to offer unbeatable value for money, great choice and proper protection for consumers."