The Chinese owner of the relaunched Thomas Cook online brand in the UK plans to open physical ‘concept stores’ in its home country.
A handful of bricks-and-mortar Thomas Cook stores are to be opened, starting with Shanghai early next year.
Fosun Tourism Group, which also owns Club Med, relaunched Thomas Cook in China in July and has attracted more than 170,000 customers.
The reintroduction of the brand in the UK as an online travel agency is only “phase one”.
Brands under Fosun Tourism, which include Club Med, Casa Cook and Cook’s Club, will be incorporated into the Thomas Cook’s online product system in the UK to create “synergy effects”.
The stores planned in China will be “multi-functional and more than just travel agencies”, but not be on a large scale.
The first outlet will feature attractions such as skiing machines and ski instructors, cafes serving exotic drinks and children’s education classes.
Fosun Tourism chief executive and chairman Jim Qian told the BBC: “We want to test a lot of things in China which in the future can be launched globally.
“These new-style concept stores show our commitment to having a solid offline presence, building on physical resorts like the Club Med chain.”
The UK brand entered into a joint venture partnership with Fosun in 2016 and then became fully Chinese-owned after it collapsed a year ago.
Qian added: “In China, Thomas Cook has been relaunched as more than just an online travel agency. Instead, it is a lifestyle platform which offers a range of related products and services.”
This lifestyle platform includes hotels, tickets, entertainment, education and retailers selling gifts and souvenirs. It also includes a delivery firm to help holidaymakers transport bulky purchases back home.
“We launched as an online travel agency first in the UK but we want to add more and more so it becomes a similar platform,” Qian said.
Although the timing of the UK relaunch has been questioned given the current Covid-19 travel-related downturn and strict restrictions still in place, Qian said: “It was a soft launch to test the process and make sure things are working well ahead of a full recovery. We will gradually add more products on this platform.”
Fosun has already seen a strong recovery in tourism within China from the pandemic for all its travel and leisure brands.
Club Med resorts are gradually reopening globally and Fosun wants to expand the all-inclusive brand.
It has started building 10 new resorts to be ready for the end of 2022 and has more in the pipeline
A new concept called Club Med Joyview has been introduced in China aimed at short city-break travellers.
“The companies that can survive this travel downturn will be much stronger on the other side as they have shown they can be efficiently managed, ” Qian said.
The UK online relaunch of Thomas Cook is aimed at further strengthening the group’s development of the channel “and the creation of the tourism products diversification in Europe, together in efforts to form the Thomas Cook Lifestyle Platform,” according to Fosun.
Qian said: “Supporting the growth of the brand in China and its relaunch in the UK is a big step in our plan to turn Thomas Cook into a global success story and a key milestone in the development of the Fosun Tourism Group’s strategy.”
Fosun Tourism plans to develop at least 25 resorts under Casa Cook and Cook’s Club brands in the next three years.
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