Thomas Cook is relaunched - but without shops, planes or travel reps

Interview with ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills

The Thomas Cook brand has been “reinvented” as an online travel company – with no planes, offices or beds of its own.

Chinese firm Fosun Tourism Group acquired the brand for £11 million after the 178-year-old travel company collapsed in September 2019.

The new version began selling holidays online and over the phone on Wednesday and does not have any stores.

It employs around 50 people, which is a drop in the ocean compared with the 9,000 jobs lost when the company collapsed.

Alan French, who was group strategy and technology director at Thomas Cook when it collapsed, has been hired as UK chief executive of the new travel agency and spoke to our business editor Joel Hills.

Thomas Cook is back offering holidays once more.

Asked why the company has relaunched in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic – when air travel is down 80% - he said: “We’ve got a number of things that make us different from other players in this space.

“Firstly, we don’t have any debt - we’ve got Fosun sitting behind us. Secondly, we are digital and really only digital.

“Thirdly, we’ve got access to innovation and if you have a look at what Fosun’s doing in China with the consumer-led brands I think that’s very powerful.”

The failure of Thomas Cook led to the repatriation of around 150,000 holidaymakers who were overseas.

Mr French pledged that the new travel agency’s customers can be “reassured their money is protected” due to its “robust financial structure”.

All holidays are ATOL-protected, but he stopped short of promising a refund within 14 days if customers find themselves in a country added to the UK’s quarantine list after they have arrived.

“We will work through what our options are first, so we will try and give the customer an alternative… but if none of that works for the customer we will fulfill our obligations to the customer.”

He added: “We have got the same issues – if there is a huge demand coming through then we’ll have to process that and we’ll have to look at how that process comes through so we will do our best to do that in 14 days.”

And after Tui were investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Thomas Cook can ill afford significant delays to refunds.

Tui vowed to make the payments by the end of the month on Wednesday after the CMA revealed it had received thousands of complaints from passengers claiming travel firms were withholding their cash.

The competition watchdog pointed out that consumer protection law requires refunds within 14 days. 

Tui cancelled trips due to Covid-19 but kept hold of customers’ cash, the CMA said Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

Thomas Cook only offers trips to destinations from which UK holidaymakers can return without entering quarantine, such as Italy, Turkey and parts of Greece.

But Spain – the biggest market by far, with more British visitors than France, Italy and Portugal combined – is not one of its destinations.

“I think the uncertainty is a dampener on it,” Mr French admitted, when asked if people actually want to go on holiday.

“As soon as that uncertainty goes away, I can see the market really moving very quickly.”