Airtours, Britain's second-biggest holiday company, is to change its name to MyTravel Group as part of a major rebranding exercise. The company will use the new name on its fleet of 51 aircraft as well as its 1,000-strong chain of travel agencies, with the Going Places name being gradually phased out. However, the company will retain the Airtours name for its main holiday brochure.
The makeover has been timed to coincide with the launch of MyTravel.com, the Airtours e-commerce operation. The company said it wanted to bring all its distribution businesses under one name.
However, it said the costs of the exercise would be minimal. The Going Places travel agencies will have to fund the changes from within their existing refurbishment budgets, with the changes due to be finished by next Christmas. Tim Byrne, the Airtours chief executive, said the airline rebranding would be completed by next winter too and would consist merely of "sticking transfers" on the side of the planes.
The change of the company name is a poignant moment for David Crossland, the Airtours chairman, who founded the company in 1972. The name came from one of the first businesses he acquired, a Lancashire-based family operation run by Alf and Ivy Roberts. They had used their initials for the name AIR Tours which Mr Crossland took on and has used ever since. Mr Byrne denied the changes would cause disruption as well as confusion in holidaymakers' minds.
However, Superbrands, a branding consultancy, said the move could backfire in the short term. It said that following 11 September, the strength of traditional brands would be essential. "Established, well-known and well-respected brands will be the likely victors in the battle for consumers' trusts and share of the wallet during the next six months," it said.
The change is the latest in a string of rebranding exercises in the travel industry. Preussag, the German group which owns Thomson Travel, has brought all its travel operations under the World of TUI name. Thomas Cook has changed the name of its main UK tour operating company to JMC.
The news came as Airtours reported its biggest ever full-year profit but warned of a turbulent year ahead. Operating profits for the year to 30 September were up to £147m from £94m a year ago. But charter bookings for this winter are down by 15 per cent and bookings for next summer are down by 17 per cent. Mr Byrne believed consumers were delaying their holiday rather than deciding not to take one.
Airtours has cut 1,600 jobs since 11 September. About 800 of these were in the US, 200 in the UK and the rest across Europe.
Its shares rose 13p to 245p.