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Reflecting on a post-Thomas Cook travel industry

John Escott, general manager, Elite Travel Group, reflects on the knock-on effects of the collapse of Thomas Cook and what it will mean for the travel industry in the long term.

I feel sorry for those who lost their jobs in the wake of the Thomas Cook collapse, but it was pleasing to see the industry rally around and offer support.

It was a shrewd move by Hays Travel to acquire the 555 retail outlets of Thomas Cook from under the noses of its competitors. It’s great for staff who will be re-employed, but I am sure there will be a review of the shops that are uneconomic. There will be a number of towns with multiple Hays branches so it will be interesting to see how many remain open in a year’s time. Hays Travel received great PR with John and Irene portrayed as the saviours of the high street − I wish them every success. Many other retailers have announced expansion plans, showing confidence in the high street for travel retailing.

We are seeing the knock-on effects of the collapse, such as job losses at airports around the country, hoteliers losing millions around the world and lost forward bookings. There are many other sectors affected too. The consequences will be felt by businesses and employees for a long time.

For operators without an airline, there is a shortage of seats on many routes and prices will remain higher than they would have been in the short term. Operators who had seats on Thomas Cook aircraft are sourcing alternative airlines. It is an opportunity for big operators to add extra capacity and dominate the market further. TUI has announced 2 million extra holidays for next year and Jet2 is planning to expand. Everyone should see this as a huge opportunity, as there are millions of holidaymakers who would have travelled with Thomas Cook who are now looking for alternatives.

We need to get the message out that customers should book through their friendly, knowledgeable local travel agent. They are there to help and advise − and to help when things go wrong. The media can be unhelpful.

I watched Good Morning Britain after the Thomas Cook collapse and a guest said: “Nobody books through travel agents these days.” Luckily, Kate Garraway interrupted and said: “Well, I do!”.

Many operators have taken a serious financial hit and I hope everyone can see their way through this storm. There are many rumours on social media about who is “the next to go”. We need to be careful about speculating without facts and help each other to get through this.

The one thing that has emerged is that the financial protection and bonding system needs a full review. Have ABTA and the CAA been effective and do they have the necessary robust measures in place? It seems unfair that the ATOL holder has to take full financial responsibility and face financial loss, potentially jeopardising their business through no fault of their own. The government is expected to announce an airline insolvency review and there will be calls for change. Some are calling for the APC of £2.50 to be increased. The government already collects enough money from every airline ticket sold with APD. Perhaps some of it should be used to provide protection? We need to learn lessons and make changes.

The CAA has undertaken the largest repatriation since WWII in bringing home stranded holidaymakers. It seems ridiculous that aircraft are flown in from around the world at great expense to undertake these flights while Thomas Cook aircraft are sitting idly at UK airports. Why not just continue the scheduled flying on those aircraft with the same crew to bring everyone home? The one issue that arises was, should those without ATOL protection have been brought home? The simple answer is “no” in my opinion. Why not charge a levy on all seats sold so everyone is protected? The Thomas Cook collapse will be a monumental day in the history of the travel industry.

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