Thomas Cook “needed to go” as it was becoming “dysfunctional” after years of mismanagement.

Attraction Tickets Direct (ATD) chief executive Oliver Brendon said the travel giant was asking customers to pay their balances in full well in advance of holidays which was a major warning sign.

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Speaking during Travel Weekly’s Business Breakfast event at Abta’s Travel Convention in Tokyo, he revealed ATD had around £1 million worth of exposure from the failure through its business with Freedom members.

“Regulation largely works,” he said. “Consumers have got their money back and I thought the CAA handled it quite well.”

But Brendon said ATD received calls from worried customers on the Monday of the collapse including one who had been asked by Thomas Cook to pay their balance in full for a holiday in Easter 2020.

“Although it’s tragic for hoteliers and staff and sad for customers, it striked me that Cook needed to go and it was becoming a bit dysfunctional.

“Asking customers to pay in full that far in advance is dysfunctional behaviour. Mismanaged companies should go if they’re being mismanaged for so long.

“You don’t need the benefit of hindsight to realise in 2011 that adding 400 shops was a good idea when you already have an inflated retail (network).”

Der Touristik UK chief executive Derek Jones said the idea Thomas Cook failed purely because it “failed to move on” from the high street was “inherently wrong”.

“On the business pages you have a failed business model and a failure to execute the high street and move into digital, and in the same newspaper on the news pages at the front there are stories of Thomas cook staff working out of Costa Coffee helping customers.

“So there’s this weird juxtaposition that everybody has and always has had, around something that becomes unfashionable until such a point that people realise the value of it at which point it becomes something we all celebrate.”

He said the customers in Costa understand the value of the travel agent and predicted one-to-one relationships would continue.

Jones added that agencies trying to snap up Thomas Cook staff also recognised their value.

“That can take decades to evolve and nurture or it can take signing a lease and getting them to work with you,” he added.

“The idea that Cook’s failure was anything as simplistic as a failure to move on from the high street is just inherently wrong. The high street, face to face relationships and people to people has a future. It’s more about finding an economically viable way to do that and therein is the challenge.”

Lisa McAuley, managing director B2B tour operations dnata Travel Europe, said while Thomas Cook’s demise was “heartbreaking” for the staff, it created an opportunity for other travel businesses.

“Yes we were impacted and we’re still working through it.”

But she added: “The brutal commercial reality is, Cook failing leaves an opportunity out there. In B2B they were a large competitor particularly to the west – Florida, Vegas – and they were selling at price points like it was a race to the bottom.

“So take them out of the market and there’s an opportunity. Someone’s failure is another’s opportunity.”

However she said “the right thing to do” in the first instance was support the staff and other impacted parties.

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