Is there future for the “new” Thomas Cook?
— 9 experts shared their view
The "old" Thomas Cook, a 179-year-old company and the second largest tour operator in the world after TUI, collapsed in September of 2019. Fosun Tourism Group, a Chinese travel conglomerate that already owned the famed Club Med, bought the rights to the bankrupt company's brand for $14 million.
Now, a year later Fosun has resurrected the Thomas Cook brand as an online travel agency thomascook.com, selling directly to the public packaged beach holidays in destinations like Spain, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, USA, etc. and city breaks in Rome, Paris, Madrid, New York, etc.
The question is: Is there future for the "new" Thomas Cook?
Growing up in Scotland I have fond memories of going into the local Thomas Cook store as a kid. The travel agents in the store knew each family, their vacation preferences and would be trusted to book the annual summer vacation, most often to the Spanish Islands or somewhere in Greece.
The issue Thomas Cook experienced is a familiar one: they were too slow to react to the irreversible trend of consumers shopping online. Throughout the 2000s the travel landscape was evolving quickly and their business model of owning high street stores and their own aircraft made it difficult to pivot to ecommerce. Despite numerous acquisitions and mergers from 2008-2015, Thomas Cook failed to seize the online opportunity and they lost market share to Expedia and Booking.com who were better positioned as true online travel agents. Sadly it became a business that was in such financial distress no one could save it.
The challenge Thomas Cook has now is that public perception of the brand in the UK is damaged. When it went bust in 2019 the company left 150,000 travelers stranded overseas which led to the largest repatriation effort since World War 2. That's not something that is easily forgotten or forgiven by British media and consumers. It means there's a big trust issue to overcome as well as an obvious short-term problem of pandemic travel restrictions and quarantine requirements across Europe.
That said, in time I think it could be a very good move for Fosun Tourism Group and Thomas Cook. In launching now, they can begin re-building brand trust and establish a solid operation by selling a limited inventory of destinations until covid-19 quarantine restrictions are lifted to core destinations in Spain. Depending on the availability of a vaccine and the overall status of covid-19 in Summer 2021 they could be very well positioned to take advantage of pent-up travel demand from British tourists.