The Thomas Cook Group plc travel company has unfortunately gone into liquidation and ceased trading in September 2019. The demise of the world’s oldest travel company, has left thousands of holidaymakers stranded and its 22,000 staff members with an uncertain future.
Thomas Cook’s Indian, Chinese, German and Nordic subsidiaries continued to trade as normal in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of their parent company.
The fact is that their legacy will live on as the modern tourism industry was founded by Thomas Cook himself (pictured below) starting on 5th July 1841, when he took advantage of newly-built railways and organised one-day rail excursions from Leicester to Loughborough in England. Amongst the 485 passengers on the 1st trip was Thomas Cook’s seven year old son John Mason Cook. The party travelled in open tub-style carriages and were accompanied by a band.
Thomas Cook’s first commercial venture took place in the summer of 1845, when he organised a trip to Liverpool. By the end of 1850, he had visited Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
In 1855, 14 years after the original rail excursion, Thomas Cook started organising trips to mainland Europe taking advantage also of the International Exhibition being held in Paris, France. Cook’s first overseas rail excursions was a grand circular tour of European cities: this included Brussels, Cologne, the Rhine, Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg and Paris, returning to London via Le Havre or Dieppe.
The success of these European tours led to the development of two important travel systems: the hotel coupon of 1868 (to pay for hotel accommodation and meals abroad) and the circular note of 1874 (a form of travellers’ cheque which enabled tourist to obtain local currency in exchange for a paper note issued by Thomas Cook).
The grand circular tour of European cities was followed in 1860 by trips to Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and the USA.
The first travel shop was opened in Fleet Street, London in 1865 (pictured below is the Glasgow shop in Buchanan street).
Thomas’ son, John Mason Cook, eventually took over running the company from his father, who died in 1892. It stayed in family hands and, in the first quarter of the 20th Century, Thomas Cook’s grandsons added winter sports, motor car tours and commercial air travel to its offerings.
In 1919, Thos Cook & Son, as the company was then known, is the first travel agent in Britain to advertise pleasure trips by air.
In 1984, the famous catchphrase for Thomas Cook was used for the first time…
“Don’t just book it – Thomas Cook it!”
Other key dates in the Thomas Cook history:
1928 – Frank and Ernest Cook, the two surviving grandsons of Thomas Cook, retire, selling the business to the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens, the owners of the Orient Express.
1948 – Becomes state-owned under the British Transport Holding Company, to save it from Nazi occupation after World War II broke out.
1972 – Privatised and bought by a consortium of Britain’s Midland Bank, Trust House Forte and the Automobile Association.
1990 – Thomas Cook becomes the world’s leading foreign exchange retailer when it acquires the retail foreign exchange operations of Deak International.
1992 – Westdeutsche Landesbank, Germany’s third largest bank, and the LTU Group, Germany’s leading charter airline, acquire the Thomas Cook Group from Midland Bank.
1994 – Thomas Cook acquires Interpayment Services Limited, a subsidiary of Barclays bank, to become the largest supplier of travellers cheques outside the United States.
1994 – Thomas Cook sells its travel management business to American Express.
1999 – The European Commission approves the merger of Thomas Cook and Carlson Leisure Group’s UK travel interests. Thomas Cook airline business starts.
2001 – Thomas Cook completes the sale of its Global and Financial Services division to Travelex.
2001 – Thomas Cook is acquired by the German travel company Condor & Neckermann, which changes its name to Thomas Cook AG.
2007 – Thomas Cook AG and MyTravel Group plc merge to form Thomas Cook Group plc, bringing a stronger Nordic focus with the incorporation of the Ving, Spies and Tjäreborg businesses.
2011 – Thomas Cook merges its UK retail operations with those of the Co-operative Group and the Midlands Co-operative Society, creating the UK’s largest chain of travel agents.
2015 – Thomas Cook Group plc announces a new strategic partnership with Chinese investment group Fosun International Limited. Fosun is the largest shareholder in Thomas Cook Group and also own the Club Med holiday chain among other tourism businesses.
September 2019 – Thomas Cook ceases trading and goes into liquidation.
For reference – Thomas Cook: The much-loved travel brand with humble roots (BBC News)
For reference – “A deeply sad day”: Thomas Cook Group ceases trading (The MoodieDavitt Report)