Thomas Cook’s return journey: from collapse to relaunch in one year

Travel brand resurrected as online-only agent by Chinese owners Fosun

Thomas Cook
Travel brand resurrected as online-only agent by Chinese owners Fosun
(Image credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images )

Thomas Cook is back in business again in the UK exactly 12 months after the collapse of the 178-year-old travel company.

When the travel agent ceased trading in September last year, around 150,000 holidaymakers were left stranded abroad and 21,000 staff worldwide lost their jobs, including 9,000 in Britain.

But now Thomas Cook is back with a “Covid-ready” website “that will initially sell holidays to beach resorts and cities in countries on the UK government’s travel corridor list” of countries exempt from coronavirus quarantine restrictions, reports The Guardian.

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In a message on the new site, the company says: “We want to give you certainty when you book so we only offer destinations with no quarantine.”

Who owns Thomas Cook?

The Thomas Cook brand assets were bought for £11m last November by Chinese conglomerate Fosun.

The Shanghai-based group - which also owns all-inclusive holiday company Club Med - relaunched Thomas Cook in China in July, with the UK’s online operation kicking off this week. The business is staffed by 50 employees working from home and is once again licensed by the CAA and is Atol-protected.

Fosun will invest an additional £6m in the travel company, and the majority of the senior management team, including chief executive Alan French, are former Thomas Cook employees, a person with knowledge of the deal told the Financial Times.

‘Phase one’ for UK relaunch

Thomas Cook’s relaunch in China in July has been described as a “success”, with more than 170,000 customers so far.

Fosun Tourism Group chief executive and chair Jim Qian told the BBC that the Chinese operation is “more than just an online travel agency”.

“Instead, it is a lifestyle platform which offers a range of related products and services”, including hotels, tickets and entertainment, he explained.

Fosun says the online UK relaunch of Thomas Cook is just “ phase one” of what the BBC describes as “ambitious expansion plans” for the company’s brands once the global economy recovers from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We launched as an online travel agency first in the UK but we want to add more and more so it becomes a similar platform [to China],” Qian added.

“It was a soft launch to test the process and make sure things are working well ahead of a full recovery. We will gradually add more products on this platform.

“The companies that can survive this travel downturn will be much stronger on the other side as they have shown they can be efficiently managed.”

Cautious welcome

Although the Thomas Cook relaunch is good news for the UK’s ailing travel industry, some experts are warning consumers to be cautious when it comes to booking holidays, with Atol protection proving less secure in recent months.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “While some previous Thomas Cook customers may be pleased to see it relaunching as an online travel agent, the events of the past few months should act as a reminder that just because a brand is a household name it does not mean you can necessarily rely on it to treat you fairly.

“While package holidays booked through Thomas Cook would be Atol protected, many of the big online travel agents have proven time and time again through the pandemic they aren’t able to offer the same level of protection or customer service as better, traditional tour operators, making it difficult to secure refunds that customers are legally owed for cancelled holidays.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.