Opinion: What did the Belgians ever do for Thomas Cook?

Opinion: What did the Belgians ever do for Thomas Cook?

Industry analyst Andrew Monk of VSA Capital adds another name from the travel sector to the favourite pub quiz question: ‘Name five famous people from Belgium’

The travel industry is full of famous names, dating back as far as 1841 when Thomas Cook founded his company.

Think of the icons of the 80s and 90s such as Harry Goodman, David Crossland, Sir Richard Branson, Sir Adam Thomson (a personal favourite of mine) Lord King and Lord Marshall.

And today we have Michael O’Leary, Carolyn McCall, Willie Walsh, Peter Long and Harriet Green, but there is one name that isn’t so well know but probably should be.

We all know the pub quiz question – can you name five famous Belgians?

Well, we probably can get Audrey Hepburn and maybe Plastic Bertrand (if you grew up in the 80s), perhaps Jean Claude Van Damme and, if you enjoy tennis, Kim Clijsters, but after that we tend to cheat and say Tintin or Hercule Poirot.

But I think it’s time the travel industry and the City really recognised the success of a Belgian heavily involved in the UK travel industry who deserves to be on both lists but I suspect is too modest to be concerned and much more worried about ensuring his work is completed (which I am sure it will be).

That person is Frank Meysman (pictured), the chairman of Thomas Cook, who in truth has saved the company from collapse, rebuilt it and put in place many of the people who now get the credit.

Thomas Cook is the best brand in the travel industry and a true global brand, and today it is re-emerging in a way I believe the original founder would have supported.

Back in July 1841 Thomas Cook took 500 passengers from Leicester to Loughbrough, but his first continental tour in 1855 left Harwich and landed in – yes, you guessed it – Antwerp in Belgium.

Today Belgium has quietly come to Thomas Cook and we should all be grateful even if we don’t remember his name next time we are asked for famous Belgians in the pub.

Perhaps the City will soon also show its appreciation by supporting the rumoured £400 million rights issue which will put Thomas Cook back in first class shape.

And if that amount is raised it really is all credit to Frank – I suggested at the start of the year that maybe £100 million or possibly £200 million could be raised, so this would be a major thumbs up.

I also thought the share price would perform well, but in the first four months of 2013 it has risen a staggering 185% – better than even I had predicted.

It would also, I suspect, be the front runner if successful for other equity raises in the sector as share prices have remained remarkably strong; EasyJet is up 47%, IAG is up 52%.

It probably doesn’t feel like this, but the laggard in the sector is Tui which is only up 15%. Even my friend Roger Allard has seen his share price at All Leisure rally 68% this year.

The industry is in very good health, and so my advice is that when the ducks are quacking, feed them. Right now they are quacking, so I would be raising some new money and investing in new growth.

And I’d look east, as that is where the future is – but you need to look further east than Belgium into Asia this time.


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