Thomas Cook is returning to the UK market as an online-only brand nearly 12 months to the day since its financial collapse saw the then 178-year-old holiday company shut up shop overnight after failing to negotiate a £1.1bn bailout.
The relaunch is being funded by a fresh £6m investment from former major shareholder Fosun. The Chinese company purchased the brand for £11m, following its collapse, which forced the UK authorities to repatriate 150,000 holidaymakers and left 9,000 staff out of a job.
The new operation has some way to go before returning the business to its glory days when it had 21,000 employees and 600 shops, however.
At launch, it is understood that Thomas Cook online will have just 50 staff, even though its new owner said it planned to turn the business into a “global success story” as it opened for bookings. There is also the small matter of the coronavirus pandemic, which has wreaked havoc with travel and tourism.
While the brand used to have its own planes, it will now use easyJet for the majority of its flights and largely focus on holidays in Italy, Greece and Turkey.
Chief executive Alan French, the former group strategy director, said: “At the heart of Thomas Cook were some fantastic people who really cared about their customers and who went the extra mile . . . even when they weren’t being paid. It’s that DNA we want to bring to life.
“What happened last year was a tragedy at a personal level for many thousands of my former colleagues, our business partners and of course our loyal customers. The resilience and affection still felt for the Thomas Cook brand reflects the huge commitment and professionalism of those former colleagues.
“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 multibillion-dollar organisation.”
French claims the company is prepared to “ramp up quickly” if it proves successful in the UK, aiming to launch in the Netherlands and Belgium next; it began selling domestic holidays in China in July.
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