Some thoughts on Thomas Cook
I was so sad to waken this morning to the news that the travel agency Thomas Cook has ceased trading. Thousands of staff will lose their jobs while hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers face disappointment, some having turned up at the airport this morning to find rows of check-in desks completely bare.
One of the oldest and perhaps the best-known travel agency in the UK, Cooks began business in 1841, growing quickly into a recognised and trusted name. It was a staple of High Streets, up and down the country. Not only a travel agency but somewhere to buy currency for trips abroad. In my home city of Dundee it has pride of place, on the corner of the City Square.
But, while I lament its passing, I must take my share of the blame.
I last booked a holiday with Cooks in the spring of 2003. Newly widowed, with three young children, we needed a treat. A good friend arranged an appointment with a colleague at Thomas Cook. To this day I still remember not only the name of the young man who assisted me but the diligence he showed in planning our holiday.
With the coming of the internet, I began exploring independent travel and found I preferred scheduled flights to chartered, standalone properties to hotels. The age of the independent holidaymaker had arrived. This new trend was fed by the growth in budget airlines, some of whom began offering package-type holidays, bookable online. Even currency could be ordered online and delivered to our front doors.
The arrival onto the marketplace in 2008 of the Californian company Airbnb further undermined the package holiday model. Ordinary citizens rented out their homes with less regulation and more flexibility. It was possible to book a room, an apartment or a whole house for as little as a day or two and the prices were keen. It’s little wonder the High Street travel agencies experienced a downturn in business.
But is cheaper now necessarily better?
In some cities, it is claimed that the rise of often illegal holiday lets is severely restricting access to affordable housing for locals. Barcelona and Berlin are particularly proactive in their drive to minimise the impact of these holiday rentals.
If there is any good news this morning it is that holidaymakers already abroad will be able to continue their holiday and be flown home at the end of it. Those who have yet to travel will, I believe, be compensated, albeit this may take a month or two. But for the independent traveller, dealing with problems is less easy; remember one budget airline’s initial refusal to compensate passengers during the ash cloud delay a few years ago?
As the holiday market changes around us we may come to regret the demise of the helpful travel agencies with their ABTA and ATOL guarantees. But then it will be too late.