Thomas Cook, Between The Symbol And The Changes

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It is difficult to exaggerate the symbolic importance of the name Thomas Cook in tourism. With his «Grand Tour,» Cook is normally cited as the creator of modern tourism, focused on the tours of groups of people with all the central issues, such as accommodation and transportation, already solved beforehand by a specialist. Something that Cook was already doing since 1848, and that the company he founded did until yesterday when she was declared bankrupt. That concept of the organized tour seems quite obvious to us today, but at the time it was a commercial innovation.

The media will now focus on the short-term consequences because that is the central point of any journalistic coverage. For example, the hundreds of thousands of tourists abroad, and they must be repatriated by the English government because their air tickets are no longer valid. Or travelers blocked in their hotels, and those who were required to pay for the rooms because Thomas Cook would no longer do so.

In any case, more interesting for many of us, involved in working on the trends in the travel market, is to think about how the changes in the last decade in the tourism market have finished sinking one of the largest travel agencies in the world. It is clear that the company had many problems with the emergence of major global players in the tourism market, which eroded its position in reservations -Google, Expedia, etc.- as in the issue of accommodation -AirBNB, for example. A good number of users have become accustomed to managing their trips and not going through agencies.

But still, we talk about a company that had 19 million customers per year, and that at the time of bankruptcy had 600 thousand people traveling through different parts of the world. The company carried a debt of more than 2 billion dollars. And it was coming from a very complicated decade from the financial point of view. Since 2003 it operated its own airline, an initiative that became a source of operational problems for the company. And the prospects were not very positive since most took for granted that their business would continue to be eroded by large Internet companies. Of course, you can add the recent political and economic turmoil of its main market, Great Britain. Brexit and the devaluation of the pound had a very negative impact on its financial balance.

If the idea of ​​the organized tour was Thomas Cook’s key commercial innovation, the decline of the concept led the company to bankruptcy. In particular by a large number of consumers assembling their trips from self-management tools. What we are going to have to follow will be the impact on many mass tourism destinations that were accustomed to receiving many travelers who arrived there with purchased packages. Attracting independent travelers, more attentive to the price than the comfort of the “all solved” will be an interesting challenge.