Travel Counsellors chief executive Steve Byrne says Thomas Cook staff’s ability to carry on caring for customers means they have a bright future ahead

Everyone will have been saddened by the failure of Thomas Cook and particularly for its customers and people. It is important now that as an industry we continue to be proactive and caring for those customers and colleagues affected, as first and foremost this is about people.


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From weddings and hard earnt holidays put at risk, to jobs, futures, friendships and relationships affected, travel as a community – and as individuals – can do a lot by being pro-active offering support to anyone that needs help. We want to be there to help people and be a shoulder to support at a difficult time. It is simply the right thing to do. We must put people at the heart of everything we do and refuse to stand by when people are going through a life-changing situation through no fault of their own.

This is the way that the new business models must work. Businesses nowadays do not work in isolation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected, including the supply chain of Thomas Cook. If that’s the negative, think about the positive impact if all businesses looked to support and help their people and communities.

‘Cash is king’

One thing that struck me, having met and chatted to several ex-Thomas Cook colleagues last week, was their commitment to their customers. One person shared how on Monday she saw her customer queuing in a Tui store and how it saddened her that she could no longer help her as she knew her well. In her personal adversity she was still thinking and caring about her customers. The innate desire to want to care for customers will mean these people, who did nothing wrong, will have a brighter future.

The late author Steve Covey wrote: “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.” Many have commented on the reason for Thomas Cook’s demise referring to its slowness in adapting to the digital world, its mergers and acquisitions strategy and associated debt/financing costs. In travel, uncertainty and external events that have a profound impact on your business are a constant – so cash is king.

It is easy to critique with hindsight, especially given the size of the business, but the writing has been on the wall for some time even though Thomas Cook was lauded relatively recently as a case study in business turnaround. Turnaround in what? The failure of Thomas Cook is ultimately a reflection of the polarisation of, and need for, mastery of transactional vs relationship business models. These models require either world class frictionless online buying, differentiated product and experiences or customer intimacy, personalisation and caring. The worst-case scenario is to be jack of all trades and master of none.

More widely, we are all aware of businesses with no values yet vaunted for their huge loss-making success or success in re-financing or cutting costs, or those generating bad profit from others’ misfortune or distress. We know there are businesses out there with a deeper sense of purpose, who do want to make a difference. It is these businesses that will appeal to the brightest and best, to the ones that care about their customers and people and want to do the right thing by them.

It is also a reminder to us all of the importance of being part of something that has the capacity to invest and the ability to change quickly and innovate, otherwise the human consequences are profound and unfair on those at the sharp end who deserve better.

As such, it is now our responsibility to provide the help, guidance and support these industry professionals need to create a brighter future for themselves. Their natural ability to empathise and care for their customers mean they have special qualities that will be an attribute to so many businesses, and particularly those that share the same values and purpose to care.

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