Thomas Cook, a major UK travel company that collapsed last autumn, has been reincarnated as an online travel agent but will it survive this time around? Sam Ballard reports
Thomas Cook, the UK’s oldest tour operator (it had been operating for 178 years by 2019), relaunched today – a year after it went into administration.
Famous for its affordable package holidays – particularly popular among families, part of Thomas Cook’s downfall was due to its inability to adapt to the digital era. Most of its holidays had to be booked on the phone or at physical Thomas Cook branches (of which there were about 600 around the world) on the high-street.
The company, which was founded in 1841, originally took temperance supporters between cities in the British Midlands. It went into administration with billions of pounds of debts, closing a network of about 600 travel agencies, a tour operator and an airline.
The company has, however, now been bought by the Fosun Tourism Group, a Chinese travel firm, that was in talks to buy Thomas Cook before it went into administration. They opted out of the deal but chose to pick up the brand name for £11 million in November.
So Thomas Cook has been relaunched as an online travel agency. For now it will specialise in holidays to “Covid-ready” destinations, which are on the government’s travel corridor list (although this is ever-changing).
Customers will be able to book three- to five-star hotels hotels or all-inclusive packages exclusively online. An example given is a three-night break in Rome in November for £252 for two adults flying from Gatwick.
The new website will allow customers to book transfers, car hire, airport parking, currency and insurance. New airlines and hotels will be added in the coming weeks while the company will continue to respond to the British government’s travel corridor list.
Alan French, Thomas Cook’s UK CEO, says: “We have reinvented one of the most recognisable names in British travel. Our new business will combine fantastic UK based customer service with an updated operating model protected by ATOL and with the backing of a multi-billion-dollar organisation.
“We are launching now clearly aware of the short-term challenges posed by the pandemic. We and our Fosun backers are taking the long view and we want to offer choice, customisation, and 24/7 on-holiday customer care to families who wish to travel now and in the future.
“We know Brits are keen to travel but feel nervous about safety and any changes to government rules on quarantine. We are only selling destinations on the travel corridor list and all the hotels are flexible. We also won’t charge customers a fee to change their holidays if government rules change.
“Our passion is travel and we’re focused on providing great hotels at destinations holidaymakers love, so our customers can design their own break, all at great prices. With flexibility, 24/7 on-holiday care and ATOL protection, customers can book a Thomas Cook holiday with confidence.
“We will offer customers choice and a better booking experience. Our website is designed to be fast and simple to use and our priority is to ensure customers can book their holiday with absolute confidence. Thanks to new ownership and a new robust financial structure, customers can be reassured their money is protected.
“We will use a trust model to ring-fence customers’ payments, meaning Thomas Cook only receives customers’ money once they’ve returned from holiday.”
Jim Qian, chairman and CEO of Fosun Tourism Group, says: “Thomas Cook has a proud heritage and after acquiring the brand last year we wanted to quickly return it to its home in the UK.
“Supporting the growth of the brand in China and its relaunch in the UK is a big step in our plan to turn Thomas Cook into a global success story and a key milestone in the development of the Fosun Tourism Group’s strategy.”
French adds: “Re-launching Thomas Cook as a business designed for today’s holidaymaker is an honour. What happened last year was a tragedy at a personal level for many thousands of my former colleagues, our business partners and of course our loyal customers.
“The resilience and affection still felt for the Thomas Cook brand reflects the huge commitment and professionalism of those former colleagues. We are very much in their debt and hope to have their backing as we look to take the brand into a new era.”