With the demise of one of the worlds oldest travel companies this week, could this be the last throw of the dice for the much loved package holiday ?
Thomas Cook was founded in 1841 when he organised a rail journey from Leicester to Loughborough and charged a shilling a head and in his younger days had been an apprentice cabinet maker earning sixpence a week, later becoming a baptist minister and taking the temperance pledge,if he was still around this week he might have just been tempted to have a wee snifter after seeing what has become of his company.
I have been in travel industry a long while and my first experience of Thomas Cook Travel was buying a rail ticket for my then boss in one of the branches and as the clerk put out his cigarette he was incredulous that my boss wasnt travelling first class ! at that time they did have that certain aura I worked for Co-Operative travel for a large number of years and they were partly taken over by Thomas Cook as they needed more high street stores to sell holidays and i firstly couldnt believe what i was seeing.
The conferences they had every year were legendary for their excess, under the then leadership of Manny Fontenla-Novoa the Spanish businessman with free drinks flowing,staff brought over from Managers stores and given full makeovers and prizes to staff you would not believe.Manny left in 2011 after merging with the MyTravel group, who owned again more high street stores and amongst others the Airtours brand.The spending spree also continuing buying travel brands such as Intourist, the Russian holiday specialists.Manny once told me a story that at the time they were acquiring Intourist, over half of the executives sent over to Moscow to handle negotiations fell under the spell of some of the cocktail waitresses and never returned !
Was that the beginning of the end though, No, there were much larger forces at bay, In the space of a few years 25% of the UK householders had some sort of PC and in 1993 the internet first became browseable , with Mosaic the worlds first browser. Instead of relying on their local travel agent, you could look at information on the country or eventually the hotel you wanted, without having to put up with a travel clerk looking in their Gazetteers, a bible with a few very biased reviews in its pages. I was a manager with Thomas Cook/Co-Operative Travel for a couple of years but it was clear that financially things were amiss with severe cutbacks and a scramble to get the perfect direct booking engine onto the internet.I was an ambassador for the new booking system they were launching until at a meeting in the Barbican in the then chief executives offices (Harriet Green) one the of the developers who they had flown over from Silicone Valley in the United States told me he had just bought a Hugo Boss suit that day because his first pay day had been magnificent. Thats the last i wanted to do with the upper management who had recently deemed that we had to buy our own teabags in the stores as they had to cut more costs.
Then they decided that they didnt need Managers in their stores and made all redundant and although at that time I became a cluster manager for them, looking after a few stores at a time, it looked impossible then that they could ever survive without some sort of takeover.Here we are today with customers losing their holidays, aircraft grounded,a massive amount of Government money being spent to bring passengers back from holiday and closed stores.
The business model was flawed and there was no way out,but looking at the likes of Tui and Jet2 holidays,the package holiday will continue as long as the customer stays at the heart of things, and looking after the pennies ! In my travel life i have seen brands come and go, Intasun,Arrowsmith,Freddie Laker, Horizon (actually the first mass market package holiday operator) Flair,Enterprise,B Cal, Yugotours,Grecian,Globespan,Cosmos, Club 1830 and now Thomas Cook Holidays.
I have never heard of a cruise line going insolvent, but lots of mergers and acquisitions as the reality of who books their holidays where,when and how, changes daily.
I would like to hero the staff at Thomas Cook who kept the wheels turning as long as they could through extreme circumstances,i am sure the investigation to discover what happened will let loose a lot of skeletons from many cupboards. No wonder Thomas looks so miserable.