THE travel giant Thomson will tomorrow move into the estate agency market, making foreign properties available for people walking into high street shops for the first time.

Properties in Cyprus, Portugal and Spain will go on sale, with customers able to take a virtual tour of individual homes using computers in the travel agent’s 750 stores. A survey of 1,600 people by Thomson, the high street’s biggest tour operator, revealed that 55 per cent of Britons want to buy abroad, either as their main residence or as a second home.

The company estimates that Britons have already bought about half a million foreign properties, half of them in Spain.

Thomson research showed that Portugal was the most popular place for people aged between 40 and 50.

Miles Morgan, the company’s marketing director, said: “Thanks to the growth of low cost travel, television programmes about living abroad and people looking to invest in property rather than pensions, owning a home abroad is now a realistic option for lots of people. The travel industry has changed massively over the last few years. To survive in a very competitive market, travel agents need to broaden the range of what they sell. This is a natural step.”

Mr Morgan added: “This is a ground-breaking partnership that for the first time makes overseas home ownership available from High Street travel agents.”

Sean Tipton, from the Association of British Travel Agents, said: “Many more travel agents are looking into new areas and it makes sense for them to start selling property abroad.

“If you look at places like Spain, where property prices are traditionally lower, the trend for holidaymakers to buy property is growing. Thomson are well placed to get involved because they are the experts at selling holidays in these places.” Thomson aim to cash in on the growing market for purchasing foreign homes by making the process easy for would-be buyers. As many as 66 per cent of people it surveyed did not know how to get information about properties abroad.

Diversifying its business may help Thomson in its battle with online travel retailers, who now offer flights, accommodation and car hire at low prices over the internet.

Travel agents say that their personal approach makes them more attractive to customers but industry experts believe spreading out into other areas will help to save the traditional high street shops.

Thomson’s survey showed 38 per cent of people wanted to buy abroad just so they could have their own place and avoid traditional hotels and resorts. This figure rose to 50 per cent among 16-24 year olds.

A spokeswoman for Thomson said: “We find that the most popular place for Scottish people to holiday in is Spain and so we’re pleased to be offering Spain as one of the areas where people can buy properties.”

The company expects to sell about 1,000 properties during its first year in business, which is being run in conjunction with overseas property firm Parador Properties.


THE top ten destinations for British people buying property abroad are …

Costa del Sol (Spain)
Côte d’Azur (France)
Costa Blanca (Spain)
Costa Brava (Spain)
Balearic and Canary Islands (Spain)
Algarve (Portugal)
Madeira, Azores (Portugal)

Source: What Mortgage magazine, Scotsman