On September 23, Thomas Cook made headlines around the world, but not for the positive type of PR most travel companies would hope for. After months of trying to rescue the company from bankruptcy, the travel operator’s British owned entities ceased operations immediately – leaving some 600,000 tourists stranded all over the world.
But yesterday, Chinese conglomerate Fosun, who is also Thomas Cook’s largest investor prior to its collapse, purchased the travel agency’s trademark, websites and social accounts and announced plans to go back to market as an online-only agency (physical stores had already been sold off to Hays Travel and rebranded under that name).
Many articles have already been written about what went wrong – the question now is, “What’s next? Can Fosun successfully revive the Thomas Cook brand and compete in the increasingly competitive online travel market?”
As a successful operator of many different types of businesses, Fosun has the scale and potential to revive the travel brand.
But as they plan to go back to market, there are a few things they must consider:
1. Rethink the offering given the needs of the modern traveler
Thomas Cook spent years touting itself as a one-stop-shop for all travel needs. Even their tagline, “Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it” spoke to the all-inclusive model of its business – with trips including everything from seats on Thomas Cook airlines to Thomas Cook owned hotels and everything in between. But travel has changed, and modern travelers now have access to the same details and comparison sites as travel agents do. And they want to find the one-of-a-kind experiences that others can’t. The complications of planning have almost become part of the journey itself.
Fully booked pre-trip travel itineraries may reach a niche segment of the market, but they don’t align with the needs of many modern travelers. According to Booking.com’s 2020 travel predictions, 46 percent of travelers now use apps to make bookings and reservations in real-time when traveling.
Thomas Cook needs to rethink the all-inclusive pre-trip business model and create a travel planning service that can flex to meet the needs of travelers pre-trip and during the trip. Offering both packages that do everything for a customer end-to-end and packages that give travelers the flexibility to make changes to their itineraries on the spot.
2. Build the online experience from the lens of the customer not the lens of technology
When most companies seek to move from the analog world to the digital world, something the former Thomas Cook never did very successfully, they typically start from the lens of technology. They build and then they hope people will buy.
To be successful, Fosun needs to rebuild Thomas Cook from the lens of the customer instead. They need to start by understanding the current needs and pain points of travelers across the customer journey from the time they’re dreaming of their next vacation through gathering information, booking and experiencing. By identifying at all stages what would optimize their travel experience and then building an experience around those needs, they can leverage technology in a meaningful way to service customers at home, on the road, pre-trip and in the moment of travel.
3. Rebuild the brand one step at a time
The biggest piece of work Thomas Cook has cut out for it is repairing the reputational damage done to the brand. The strong reputation Thomas Cook built over the past 178 years was heavily damaged earlier this year, not only amongst European travelers in particular but also across markets where travel wasn’t disrupted.
To rebuild the relevance of the brand, Thomas Cook needs to start with outlining its purpose and the role it will play in helping modern travelers travel well. It also needs to focus on the four key pillars uncovered in Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index™: Customer Obsession, Ruthless Pragmatism, Pervasive Innovation and Distinctive Inspiration. They need to identify ways to infuse these pillars into their new go-to-market strategies and build inspiring, innovative ways to reach customers that deliver on their brand promise and help travelers with their activities.
Before its demise, “Customer at our heart” was the centerpiece for Thomas Cook’s strategy for profitable growth. After leaving 600,000 people without a way home earlier this year, Fosun must work even harder to now put the customer at the center of how it rebuilds – and make sure this time customers truly feel the love.