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Why did Thomas Cook collapse?

Thomas Cook has gone bust but the company has been in difficulty for years.

The group had a near-death experience in 2011 but was able to negotiate breathing space with its banks and bondholders.

In 2013, it was forced to ask its shareholders for extra funds but neither brush with bankruptcy lead to a sustained revival of the company’s fortunes.

Thomas Cook reported the worst half-year loss in its history in May, following a series of profits warnings.

But July it had become clear that the company’s debts of £1.7 billion were unsustainably high.

A restructuring plan was announced, and at the end of August Thomas Cook said it had managed to secure the backing of it shareholders and its creditors.

Over the weekend that coalition finally unravelled and with it the rescue deal.

The 178-year-old tour operator has ceased trading. Credit: PA

Faced with collapse, Thomas Cook turned to the government for help. The company’s request for £250m of funding was turned down because ministers believed the business’s prospects were so bleak that taxpayer support would merely delay the moment of failure.

“Governments don’t run travel agents and I dont think they should” the Transport Minister, Grant Schapps told ITV News.

“If you tried to prop this company up then not very far down the line we would be right back where we are today.”

This morning, Peter Fankhauser apologised for failing to save the 178 year-old company. He became Thomas Cook’s chief executive in 2014 but he inherited a troubled business.

Thomas Cook was already struggling to adapt to the the emergence of online competition and had embarked on a series of ill-judged adventures.

The merger with My Travel in 2007 was a disaster. The acquisition of Coop Travel in 2011 was no less foolish, saddling Thomas Cook with a nationwide chain of 1200 stores at precisely the time that customers were moving online.

A travel agent on every street was once an asset, it increasingly became a liability and one that was hard to Thomas Cook to offload. The costs associated with closing stores on the scale that was probably required were too great.

It is a remarkable fact that one sixth of Thomas Cook’s sales were generated by its “Nordic” business where the company was online only. Thomas Cook didn’t have a single shop in Norway, Finland, Denmark or Sweden. In the UK it has 550.

Travel agents on every street use to be an asset, but it's now a liability. Credit: PA

Thomas Cook’s airline was profitable but the tour operator business continued sinking. The company owned only nine of the 3000 hotels it sent customers to. Online competition is ferocious and, as the middle-man, Thomas Cook’s profit margins were gradually eroded.

Package holidays remain popular but only one in five is now booked in store. Thomas Cook, one of the pioneers of mass tourism, failed to spot which which way the wind was blowing and then realised too late.