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INTERVIEW CON-X 2022 | Alan French, CEO Thomas Cook

Alan French

What are the main challenges that your clients are facing at the moment?

The biggest challenge our customers are facing at the moment is understanding how they can safely and easily travel, especially as a family. The UK has removed all entry and exit rules and some other countries including Greece are also making holidays simple, but many are still asking for tests or vaccine certificates, which means families have to learn to navigate the restrictions. They’re turning to companies like Thomas Cook to help them, and our teams are working hard to give them the best possible advice.

What would you say has been the most difficult moment of your career, and what three lessons learned from that experience could you tell us?

Undoubtedly the toughest day of my career was the collapse of the old Thomas Cook. It was devastating for our people, our suppliers and partners, and the wider industry but it taught me three things:

  1. Companies are about people, working together and either succeeding or failing together
  2. If there are problems deal with them head on, transparently and at speed
  3. Understand how your company works and sort out the most important issues first

Being able to resurrect the brand and transform it into a digital business has been hugely rewarding and I want to build a business that is seen as an innovator and trusted holiday company.

What are the key elements from your value proposal to support your clients in their growth?

We know that trust is important when choosing who to book a holiday with, and even more so now. We knew that from the start we needed to rebuild trust and ensure this new business didn’t repeat the mistakes of the last. We set up this new Thomas Cook to operate on a trust model where customer money is held outside of our business and only released to us once the customer has returned from holiday. That makes us one of the safest holiday companies to work with as we aren’t using customer money to run our day-to-day business.

We also know that people turn to Thomas Cook because they trust us to help them have a great holiday. So we’ve invested in recruiting the best agents and travel talent to help our customers both digitally and over the phone to help them find and enjoy the holidays that best match their needs. We want to continue building on this understanding of our customers to help them find the holidays to suit them and their families.

You have great expansion plans, what essential features are you looking for in an ideal partner?

We want bold partners who are willing to challenge conventional ways of doing business. We’re a start-up with a huge brand – and the backing of Fosun Tourism Group which gives us an exciting opportunity to invest in the right ways to transform how customers book and experience their holidays. We want partners who understand their technology and how best to implement it to give our customers the best holidays. We also want partners to want to grow with us – we are a business that can grow quickly and we want to work with companies whose ambition matches ours.

How crucial is technology to your business, and specifically connectivity?

Fundamental. We want to give our customers a wide range of options to help them find the holiday that suits them and to do that we need to be able to integrate multiple systems into a simple, fast choices to help our customers enjoy their dream holidays.

What would you say to the more than 250 tourism leaders who are meeting at CON-X on May 31?        

Firstly, this is a great industry to be in, we sell a really fun product that customers are really interested in – we need to make the parts of the customer journey that we own as fun and engaging as the holiday itself. Secondly, this is a great time to be in the industry, the recovery looks promising, customers want to travel and destinations are opening up. I do think that customer demands from the holiday are changing from a simple fly and flop to one where their interests at home need to be met on holiday – whether they’re foodies, fitness lovers, culture lovers or adventure seekers. And finally, while for us in the sector, sustainability has taken a bit of a backseat for consumers it has  grown in importance, and we need to find ways to address the challenge of carbon emissions related to flying and think more about how we deal with that issue openly.