Thomas Cook has risen from the ashes of its collapse last year, and recommenced selling holidays as an online-only travel company.
Relaunching today, Thomas Cook will sell holidays via its website and over the phone – but will not have a presence on the high street, nor operate its own flights. Its destinations are, understandably, limited too: the company is only offering trips to beach resort hotspots with no quarantine or FCO restrictions – such as Italy, Barbados, and some areas of Greece.
The brand is now operating under the ownership of Chinese firm Fosun Travel Group, which acquired the name and other intellectual property assets for £11 million last year. The collapse of the 178-year-old company left 150,000 holidaymakers stranded overseas, sparking Britain’s biggest peacetime repatriation effort.
The new owners have retained the Thomas Cook logo, but the company now employs just 50 people – a far cry from the 9,000 jobs that were axed last year.
Alan French, Thomas Cook’s new UK Chief Executive, addressed the difficulties of launching a travel company amid the pandemic: “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 new business will combine fantastic UK-based customer service with an updated operating model protected by Atol and with the backing of a multibillion-dollar organisation.”
French, who was previously Group Strategy and Technology Director of the company, was one of the 9,000 staff who lost their jobs last September: “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.”
Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel’s Consumer Editor, warns that the brand’s troubled past may be hard for holidaymakers to forget: “By the time it failed last year, Thomas Cook was still one of the most famous brands in travel, but it had become a mid-market sun and sand tour operator and had lost much of its reputation for the high quality travel advice of its travel agents.
“The new online incarnation will benefit from the well-known name, and does offer proper Atol financial protection to its customers – and the parent company has a strong record in travel and holidays. But it will be hard for Thomas Cook to regain its historic reputation for reliability, knowledgeable staff and excellent customer service.”
Most of Thomas Cook’s high street stores were sold to Hays Travel, which itself has been forced to make job cuts in recent weeks in an effort to lower costs.
Fosun, which had been a Thomas Cook shareholder for a number of years prior to its demise, originally agreed to contribute to a £900m rescue deal – but the offer collapsed after it emerged that lenders were demanding a further £200m cushion at the last minute.
The new owner hopes Thomas Cook will become a “global success story” once again, said Jim Qian, Fosun’s Chairman and Chief Executive: “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.”