The demise of Thomas Cook was a sad and sobering event for all of us in the travel industry, and has prompted some remarkable acts of kindness towards those affected. WTM travel writer Faith McMath shares a personal perspective on a name that captured some of the best qualities of our industry.
Looking after each other
Peterborough, the home of Thomas Cook’s head office, has been helped along by many heart-warming stories this week. Free taxi journeys, haircuts, event tickets and childcare have been offered to the city’s 1,200 employees. One has even been given a free engagement party after he called the venue to cancel having lost his job.
More widely, UK staff have been offered free football tickets, free lunch, career coaching and free drinks from generous bars.
On the flip side, numerous Thomas Cook staff have chosen to work unpaid, setting up pop-up shops to help customers understand the implications of the firm’s liquidation and navigate the ATOL refund process.
This commitment to customer care has ultimately resulted in the wonderful lifeline thrown to Thomas Cook’s retail employees – with this week’s announcement that Hays Travel will buy 555 of the company’s stores.
An unusual kind of business
It’s difficult to imagine this kind of response from either companies or the public in other industries. There’s simply something a bit special about travel. Having worked for Thomas Cook myself, after roles in marketing agencies, the financial sector, healthcare and other areas, this is something I noticed early on.
Just having the opportunity to work in travel is appealing — I certainly had a sense of excitement in applying for the role. And my visit to Thomas Cook’s head office certainly matched up to expectations, with my interview held in a meeting room built to resemble a brightly coloured beach hut.
On joining the company I was immediately struck by the positive atmosphere. There was a real sense of pride among people right across the organisation – from consultants in the stores to airline staff and back office functions.
We would always celebrate the company’s historical anniversaries – even sending a journalist off in full Victorian costume to recreate the first European package tour! Thomas Cook also had a dedicated archivist – who is now sadly another casualty of the firm’s collapse.
The magic of our sector
I think that sense of history and pride is partly why Thomas Cook’s failure has provoked such a reaction across the UK. Most people in the UK will have had some kind of interaction with a Thomas Cook colleague – and it’s 99% certain to have been positive. Whether it be a helpful agent, a friendly member of cabin crew or a supportive travel rep, travel employees are there to look after people and make sure that everyone has a great experience.
For all the mistakes the company may have made, or its inability to evolve, Thomas Cook’s people have always been at the heart of its success. And the same can be said of almost any travel brand – this sector attracts people that are great with customers.
It’s always challenging, and ever-changing, but travel is undoubtedly a very special sector to work in. There’ll be valuable conversations at WTM London this year about the lessons learned from Thomas Cook – yet, as ever, it’s also the one time when our entire industry can come together and be reminded what a wonderful, warm-hearted and rewarding industry we are fortunate to be part of.
Get ahead of the latest travel and tourism news at WTM London, which takes place at ExCel London, 4-6 November. Registration is now open.