The Chinese conglomerate which bought the Thomas Cook brand after its collapse last year is plotting an imminent relaunch of one of the most prominent names in the British travel industry.
Sky News has learnt that Fosun, which had been a big shareholder in Thomas Cook for several years prior to the company’s demise, is drawing up plans to reinvent it as an online travel agent as soon as this month.
Thomas Cook’s revival will come even as British travel companies face an uncertain future because of the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
An announcement about the relaunch could be made in the coming days, but will depend on Fosun securing the necessary regulatory approvals as well as the introduction of any further quarantining restrictions on British citizens.
If it goes ahead during September, the relaunch would take place around the first anniversary of the collapse of the 178 year-old Thomas Cook, which prompted thousands of job losses and recriminations about its failure to adapt to the digital age.
One insider said the timing remained uncertain, but added that the plans for Thomas Cook to emerge as a “refreshed” name in a competitive online travel market was at an advanced stage.
Fosun acquired the name and other intellectual property assets from the wreckage of the debt-laden British company for just £11m.
Thomas Cook’s liquidation left ministers scrambling to organise the biggest-ever peacetime repatriation of British citizens, and the largest of any kind since Dunkirk.
The company had been in talks with creditors for several months about a complex financial restructuring but ran out of time in September, with the renewal of its ATOL licence from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) looming.
Fosun had agreed to contribute to a £900m rescue deal, but the talks faltered when it emerged that lenders were demanding a further £200m cushion during eleventh-hour negotiations.
A relaunched Thomas Cook would not operate its own airline, high street shops or hotels, and will be closely watched by rivals for the volume of business it anticipates doing in popular holiday resorts across Europe.
The COVID-19 crisis has cost tour operators billions of pounds in lost revenue, and forced TUI – historically Thomas Cook’s biggest rival – to seek a bailout from the German government.
TUI has also signalled that it may tap its shareholders for capital to see it through the pandemic.
A plan to revive the Thomas Cook brand during the first half of this year had been developed prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, which has wreaked havoc with the continent’s aviation and travel industries.
Among the countries which have been affected by the government’s quarantine regime is Spain, which was traditionally Thomas Cook’s largest market for British holidaymakers.
The bulk of Thomas Cook’s high street estate was sold to family-owned Hays Travel but it, too, has been forced to make cuts because of the pandemic.
Last month, Hays said it would cut up to 880 jobs in an effort to cut costs.
Fosun has recruited a number of former Thomas Cook executives to work on the brand’s relaunch, which is expected to have a significant marketing budget behind it.
The CAA’s approval is likely to be required before the new operation can go live, and it remains unclear how consumers will respond to Thomas Cook’s return following months of negative publicity last year.
A Thomas Cook spokesman declined to comment on Monday.