Tour OperatorsBritish travel icon Thomas Cook attempts a comeback, under new ownership and online-only.

Thomas Cook revives as an OTA

By
|
The relaunched Thomas Cook is a digital-only operation, sans package holidays and retail stores.
The relaunched Thomas Cook is a digital-only operation, sans package holidays and retail stores.

Almost a year to the day since its dramatic collapse, Thomas Cook – well, the brand name – is back on the scene.

The return of one of the travel industry's most high-profile names, stretching back to 1841, will be markedly different to its previous guises as a retail travel agency and airline.

Thomas Cook will be a digital-only operation, operating as ThomasCook.com, with an emphasis on build-your-own packages to popular destinations around Europe.

The company has packaging license (ATOL) and goes live for bookings this week.

Thomas Cook will not be sourcing its own hotel stock but taking inventory from three bedbanks (HotelBeds, Webbeds and Yalago) for Europe and the rest of the world.

Specifically for Asia, a dedicated team is in place to build its own network of properties, the company says.

To complete the dynamic packaging element of the brand, Thomas Cook will use Paxport to source flights but admits that it is going to predominantly use EasyJet in the first phase.

"It is important for us to get as much choice for our customers to fly from their local airports and we will aim to expand this as soon as we can," an official says.

The reemergence of Thomas Cook, minus the legacy of package holidays and retail stores, has only come about after one of suitors to the original Thomas Cook, Fosun Tourism Group, came in with a rescue package.

The Chinese leisure company pulled out of a £900 million (US$1.2 billion) buy-out programme in the summer of 2019, ending any hope of saving what was by then a fairly inevitable collapse of Thomas Cook.

Fast-forward two months and Fosun bought the brand name, domain addresses and social media accounts, among other assets, for £11 million, with the intention of relaunching it as an online travel agency.

Legacy

The last  incarnation of Thomas Cook went back to 2007 when it merged with fellow tour operating brand MyTravel – the same year that arch rival TUI (then Thomson) joined forces with First Choice.

Despite annual sales of around £9 billion a year, Thomas Cook has faced a string of problems ever since the merger with MyTravel, such as a financial bailout in 2011 and a number of poor management decisions, including those covering IT and digital strategy.

Perhaps most infamously was then-CEO Manny Fontenla-Novoa's belief in 2010 that Thomas Cook could challenge Expedia in Europe (strangely, he never mentioned Booking.com) and become the biggest online travel agency in the region within three years.

The project was given its own headquarters in London and ex-Expedia managing director Simon Breakwell was brought in to oversee operations.

Fontenla-Novoa resigned in 2011 and the OTA project barely got a mention by his replacement as CEO, Harriet Green, who was also later ousted in 2014.

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."

This story was first published on Phocuswire.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI