Sunday, 22 September 2019

Thomas Cook and 'Heritage Tourism'

One of the world's best known holiday brands, UK travel giant Thomas Cook has collapsed after last-minute negotiations aimed at saving the 178-year-old holiday firm failed (BBC Thomas Cook collapses as last-ditch rescue talks fail 23rd September 2019). The business was founded in 1841 in Leicestershire by cabinet-maker Thomas Cook to carry temperance supporters by railway between the cities of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham. He organised his first tours to Europe in 1855 and the first trip to Egypt and Palestine in 1869. The firm expanded with the boom in travel in the Edwardian era, though was mainly patronised by the wealthy. This was the beginning of the heritage tourism industry (and also was the context of a restricted number of antiquities leaving places like Egypt and finding a place in British homes and collections).* [UPDATE thread here]

Thomas Cook and Son Ltd benefited from the post-war holiday boom, which saw one million Britons travelling abroad by 1950. In the late 1950s, the company began to more widely promote 'foreign holidays' (particularly France, Italy, Switzerland and Spain) and attract a broader clientele. The company sold "inclusive tours" (package holidays) using scheduled airlines but refused to sell cheap package holidays. Cook's was still the largest and most successful company in the industry, but in the 1960s its pre-eminence was being challenged by new travel firms that were able to undercut Cook's prices and offer cheap package deals that which compromised on quality and service.
Speaking to BBC News from Manchester airport, travel expert Simon Calder said Thomas Cook "wasn't ready for the 21st Century". He said: "It was using a model that was great for the second half of the 20th Century where people would obediently go into their local travel agency and book a package holiday. "Now everybody can pretend they are a travel agent. They've got access to all the airline seats, hotel beds, car rentals in the world and they can put things together themselves. "Thomas Cook simply wasn't differentiating enough."[...] Thomas Cook has blamed a series of issues for its problems including political unrest in holiday destinations such as Turkey, last summer's prolonged heatwave and customers delaying booking holidays because of Brexit. But the firm has also faced fierce competition from online travel agents and low-cost airlines. In addition, many holidaymakers are putting together their own holidays and not using travel agents.
* With the advent of the spread of rail travel (between 1825 and 1840), the so-called 'Grand Tour' ceased to be the elite phenomenon it had been a century earlier.

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