One year ago tour operator Thomas Cook collapsed, leaving 150,000 holidaymakers stranded abroad. It had been in a joint venture partnership with the Chinese-based Fosun Tourism Group since 2016, and so it became fully owned by them in 2019. Fosun relaunched Thomas Cook in China in July and has attracted more than 170,000 customers. Fosun now plans to relaunch the company in the UK as an online travel agent only. This venture employs 50 people working remotely, and hopes to sell holidays to up to 50,000 passengers a year.
1. A challenging time
It is a difficult time for the tourism sector, with international tourist trips having dropped by 65% during the first half of the year, according to World Tourism Organisation figures, and certainly a challenging time to be relaunching. However, Thomas Cook’s UK chief executive, Alan French, said the company was taking the “long view”.
They plan to sell holidays to beach resorts and cities in countries on the UK government’s travel corridor list, such as Italy, Turkey and some parts of Greece. Further destinations will be added once government restrictions are lifted, along with more hotels and other accommodation types. “We won’t charge customers a fee to change their holidays if government rules change,” French assured. All trips, which customers can tailor themselves, will also be protected by Atol, the government-run financial protection scheme operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
However, Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel magazine, warned consumers, “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 it does not mean you can necessarily rely on it to treat you fairly”.
Although the timing of the UK relaunch has been questioned given the current Covid-19 crisis, Fosun Tourism chief executive and chairman Jim Qian explains, “It was a soft launch to test the process and make sure things are working well ahead of a full recovery. We will gradually add more products on this platform.”
Fosun has already seen a strong recovery in tourism amongst all its travel and leisure brands within China following the pandemic, its Club Med resorts are gradually reopening globally and Fosun wants to expand the all-inclusive brand.
2. Concept stores in China and a new lifestyle platform
There are also plans for this online brand to open physical ‘concept stores’ in China and brands under Fosun Tourism (including Club Med, Casa Cook and Cook’s Club) will be added to the company’s online product system in the UK to create “synergy effects”.
“These new-style concept stores show our commitment to having a solid offline presence, building on physical resorts like the Club Med chain.” states Qian, describing them as, “multi-functional and more than just travel agencies”, but explaining they will not be on a large scale. The first outlet will feature attractions such as cafes serving exotic drinks, skiing machines and instructors and children’s education classes.
“In China, Thomas Cook has been relaunched as more than just an online travel agency,” Qian added. “Instead, it is a lifestyle platform which offers a range of related products and services.”
3. More plans on the horizon
Fosun Tourism plans to develop at least 25 resorts under Casa Cook and Cook’s Club brands in the next three years and Club Med has started building 10 new resorts to be ready for the end of 2022 and has more in the pipeline.
“Supporting the growth of the brand in China and its relaunch in the UK is a big step in our plan to turn Thomas Cook into a global success story” Qian clarifies, and is “a key milestone in the development of the Fosun Tourism Group’s strategy”
Meanwhile, a group of former Thomas Cook staff are set to launch a separate tour operation. Based in Peterborough, Sunny Heart Travel will sell beach resorts, cruises and tours.