The Covid-19 pandemic has honed the survival instinct for many people
around the world; for travel industry veteran Madhavan Menon, the
crisis only sharpened his instinct to ensure the survival and resilience
of Thomas Cook India, an established travel brand with a heritage
dating back to 1881.
I had the benefit of leadership support. I have all these CEOs that we have in the group, and we always talk to each other. I keep saying this, ‘if I had to make a lot of these decisions on my own, would I have done it?’
At the onset of the pandemic, Menon, managing director of Thomas Cook
India, drew on his past experience with SARS with the Asian Trails team
and projected that business recovery would likely take six months or
even longer. That assumption proved prescient.
immediate moves to immediately pivot the entire organisation to operate
from home during lockdown, Menon and his management team also led the
company through a series of steps to quickly adapt and prepare for
survival during what he could already see were going to be tough months
The mission on hand was to "reimagine the organisation and restructure it with technology," said Menon.
The pandemic effectively turbo-charged the digitalisation processes
at both SOTC and Thomas Cook India, including automating and integrating
both entities on the back-end, whilst retaining two separate brand
identities on the customer-facing front.
Menon also saw a need to “focus on customer centricity,” especially
in a climate where consumers grew accustomed to booking anything and
everything online. “Over the next 18 to 24 months, our focus went from
selling products to customers, to customers telling us what they want,”
To follow customers wherever they are, Thomas Cook adopted an
omni-channel model. “Customer can choose whatever channel that they want
to approach us, and the experience should be identical. If someone
comes to us through a call centre, online, or want a hybrid approach
combining human interaction with online interaction, they could have it.
The screens that the agent and the customer would look at would be
The efforts bore results for the company as Indians started
travelling again when the devastating Delta wave subsided in 2021. Since
September last year, Menon saw a resurgence in the number of people
booking for holidays, both domestically and internationally.
Existing as well as new customers, especially the younger generation,
started reaching out to Thomas Cook India and SOTC through its various
channels. “We were a legacy company that sold tour packages, but
suddenly, we found that the demand was for customised tours,” said
Looking ahead, the business leader believes the company is now in a
better position to meet customer needs through multiple channels. He
also remains unruffled about any potential competition arising from
OTAs. “We will not compete directly with the OTA; we will remain in a
segment different from them. They will continue to sell more flights as
their primary source and hotels as a secondary source of revenue. We, in
turn, will sell packages with many customised options.”
He added, “We recognise that in the travel business, especially in
India, in a B2C environment, you're fulfilling a dream. When you're
fully fulfilling something intangible, all of us want reassurance.”
For the former banker-turned-seasoned-travel-executive, who has
encountered his fair share of crises through his twenty-plus-years
travel career, what the pandemic drove home was the combined necessity
of “the strength of a balance sheet” and “leadership support."
“I had the benefit of leadership support. I have all these CEOs that
we have in the group, and we always talk to each other. I keep saying
this, ‘if I had to make a lot of these decisions on my own, would I have
Amidst pandemic-induced changes in consumer behaviour, did Menon see
any changes in his own behaviour? “Netflix, Prime, YouTube and all these
various streaming apps… I think I watch them with a little more
intensity today than I did before,” he replied, with a laugh.