September 18, 2020

Thomas Cook relaunches as online-only travel business one year after 140,000 holiday-makers stranded abroad

Thomas Cook is relaunching as an online-only travel business almost a year to the day that the package holiday firm crashed into administration, leaving tens of thousands of UK passengers stranded abroad.

Emerging from the ashes of its chaotic collapse, the new digital Thomas Cook outfit is billing itself as a “Covid-secure” travel firm, initially only selling holidays to destinations on the Government’s safe travel corridor list.

Thomas Cook abruptly ceased trading after 178 years last September after last-ditch negotiations aimed at rescuing the ailing firm failed.

£100m repatriation operation

The collapse prompted the biggest ever UK peacetime repatriation, with more than 140,000 British holidaymakers brought home over two weeks. The effort, dubbed Operation Matterhorn, cost an estimated £100m, with around £60m of that bill being covered by taxpayers. Many more travellers from around the world also had to find their own way home.

The business’s largest shareholder, Chinese conglomerate Fosun – which also owns fellow travel firm Club Med, as well as Wolverhampton Wanderers FC – acquired the Thomas Cook brand and its online assets for £11m last November.

British passengers queue at Turkey’s Dalaman Airport after Thomas Cook collapsed, stranding hundreds of thousands of people around the globe (Photo: Reuters)

Covid concerns

Alan French, former group strategy and technology director at Thomas Cook, and the newly appointed CEO of the online-only operation, said: “We have reinvented one of the most recognisable names in British travel. Our new business will combine fantastic UK-based customer service with an updated operating model protected by Atol and with the backing of a multi-billion-dollar organisation.”

Mr French added that the company was “clearly aware of the short-term challenges posed by the pandemic” and was “taking the long view”.

He said: “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.”

Fair treatment?

Commenting on the relaunch, 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 does not mean you can necessarily rely on it to treat you fairly.

“Anyone looking to book with Thomas Cook should check its terms and conditions carefully first to make sure they understand what rights they have if their trip is disrupted by changing government rules on travel corridors, and under what circumstances they can claim a full refund.”

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