Is Thomas Cook Different Enough?

 Thomas Cook is failing to deliver what we expect from a great brand, difference.

Thomas Cook, the “world’s best known name in travel”, as they like to (rather weakly to my mind) position themselves, is struggling to adjust to the ever changing world.  The internet, the Arab Spring, a recent profits warning, and the recession, all combining into a perfect economic storm.

Today, Thomas Cook announced it will close 200 UK branches over the next two years as part of its UK business turnaround plan – 125 more than previously announced.  News of the closures came as the travel firm reported a £398m ($616m) loss for the year to the end of September.

The world’s oldest travel agency is in trouble, but why?

Well, longevity alone doesn’t stand for much, just take a look a chastening list of good ole names no longer with us.  Nor does being well known, you also have to stay relevant to demand as it changes and, of course, to react to emergent competition.   The last 170 years have seen a fascinating mix of innovations, failures and structural changes keeping them going for so long.  In recent years consolidation has led to numerous mergers and acquisitions.  Thomas Cook even became bankrupt early on, but the golden years of the business were driven by innovation and not just being, but STAYING DIFFERENT (one of the 5 Secrets of this blog).

The innovations included:  taking 165000 people to the Great Exhibition; circular tours of Europe; services for independent travellers; hotel coupons; Civil War battlefield tours; and in 1874, the hugely important Traveller’s Cheque.  This business was a leader in the development of the modern travel industry, “foreign holidays” and package tours.  In 1948 it was even nationalised.

When Thomas organised his first excursion in 1841 he was doing something different.  Over the last 170 years, or so, the business has managed to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances but the best times have been when it was offering something different to the competition.  It is hard to see that this is the case today and the brand needs to be revitalised with some clear thinking about what battles it wants to fight in the future.  It has a long history and inertia has kept it in the game in recent years, but for it to flourish again it needs to rediscover that difference that once made it great.

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