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Super soaraway Airtours banks on the Net

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How far does a brand stretch? If you're Virgin or Sony, which last week launched a credit card for the Playstation generation in the UK, you can stretch your name to the moon and back. However, it's difficult to see people buying computer games or clothes from established banks (too dull, too crap). But it's very easy to see people buying financial services from their supermarket chain, such as Tesco or Sainsbury's. Which they are doing, in droves. But what about entrusting their money to their travel agent? This week, the British newspapers trailed the plans of Airtours, the UK's second biggest package holiday company, to form an online bank. Essentially this would be an online banking brand, as the Bank of Scotland has been lined up to do all the dirty back office work. Presumably, Airtours will offer travel insurance, some form of loyalty card scheme and what else? A current account, a credit card? This stretches our credulity. From what we infer, Airtours will run its online bank as a separate brand. Just as well. Package holidays = downmarket = chartered airplanes = late departures = cheap hotels = complaints = exposure on BBC TV's Watchdog. According to press reports, Airtours sells more than 10.5 million holidays a year. This gives it an "enormous customer base". But how many people who purchase holidays from the company actually think of themselves as Airtours "customers"? There may be lots of repeat business, but buyers are going to be using Airtours services no more than two or three times a year max. Business-oriented airlines such as BA or Lufthansa have much closer relationships with their pay-through-the-nose-because-they-need-to-fly clientele. And they're not jumping into Net banking. ®

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