By Mark Thompson
CIO Mark Thompson of TUI's spirit of adventure
Between mobile and online, customers are demanding more of their tour operator
The travel and tourism sector has had to climb some major mountains of late.
Mark Thompson is IT director for TUIundefineds Specialist & Activity division, one of the fastest growing areas of the travel sector.
undefinedWith plasticine, if you push all the colours together you end up with a horrible brown mess. As a business and in IT we try to avoid that,undefined
85 separate company brands which make up TUI Specialist & Activity travel
The ski holiday business that includes brands such as Crystal, Hays & Jarvis and Citalia.
undefinedA trip to Kilimanjaro needs to have 10 people on it to run, so if the Exodus brand and The Adventure Company have six booked each, we are able to pull the two tours together to make sure a tour happens,undefined
Its Marine arm, for instance, offers holidays ranging from introductions for those looking to learn how to sail, through to a spell in a fully crewed craft in the British Virgin Islands.
The rising interest in alternative types of holiday has extended right across the financial spectrum of TUIundefineds customers.
Another growth sector for Specialist & Activity has been its Education division, which provides school trip services.
undefinedWhat weundefinedve seen in Education is that the success of this business is through the relationship we build with the teachers arranging the trips,undefined he says.
As part of the TUI group the Specialist & Activity division uses the companyundefineds bespoke Thomson Reservation System known as TRACS.
undefinedIn the last two and a half years our sport division has been growing well as more people travel to Champions League games or to the Olympics. We also provide event management for sports teams and organisations."
We donundefinedt impose system change for systemundefineds sake. All the changes have to be driven by a real ROI and improvements to their processes.
Many of the businesses have been successful as there is an entrepreneurial spirit that runs through them, so in IT we have to be careful not to suppress that.
My challenge is to influence and be flexible with the products I have that offer benefits to their customers.
As an IT leader itundefineds about the relationship with peers that will drive things to happen through trust.
Nature has thrown volcanic ash and snowstorms into flight paths, banks have brought the world economy to a grinding halt and new internet and budget operators have gone bust overnight, leaving holidaymakers stranded.
Where Thompsonundefineds team has made the most significant business improvement to TUI is in online support for the websites that the TUI brands operate.
Thompson is already working on standardising the production of websites across the 85 different brands in his group.
We standardised the technology onto a core CMS and we have built up our own internal resources so that we are in control of our own destiny.
Thompson sees the next major area of growth and personal contact in tourism being mobile devices.
For last yearundefineds football World Cup his division developed an iPad app called iPundit, which TUI used to raise awareness of its Sport division.
We launched iPundit two weeks before the World Cup and had 4000 downloads. The success, to me, was that 80 per cent of people were still using it by the end of the tournament.
TUI has launched an app for its Exodus adventure holiday brand
The move to apps isnundefinedt perfect when it comes to demonstrating return on investment: undefinedApple is not as open with its rankings as Google,undefined says Thompson. But he is convinced of the value that apps and mobile devices are going to offer his sector.