Thomas Cook is being resurrected as an online-only travel business, exactly a year after the 178-year-old company ceased trading, stranding 150,000 holidaymakers abroad.
The relaunch comes as the travel industry faces the worst tourism crisis since records began. World Tourism Organisation figures show that international tourist trips dropped by 65% during the first half of the year, an unprecedented drop. But Thomas Cook’s UK chief executive, Alan French, said the company was taking the “long view”.
The new “Covid-ready” website will initially sell holidays to beach resorts and cities in countries on the UK government’s travel corridor list, including Turkey, Italy and some parts of Greece. Further destinations will be added when government restrictions are lifted, alongside more hotels and other types of accommodation.
“We are launching now clearly aware of the short-term challenges posed by the pandemic,” French said. “We know Brits are keen to travel but feel nervous about safety and any changes to government rules on quarantine. We are only selling destinations on the travel corridor list and all the hotels are flexible. We won’t charge customers a fee to change their holidays if government rules change.”
The website features tens of thousands of hotels, as well as flights, transfers, and other add-ons, for customers to tailor trips, which will be protected by Atol, the government-run financial protection scheme operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The relaunch is backed by Fosun Tourism Group, the Chinese conglomerate that bought the Thomas Cook brand and online assets for £11m in November. Fosun also owns Club Med.
The Thomas Cook Group, which operated 560 high streets branches in the UK and a fleet of aircraft as well as its tour operation business, employed 9,000 people in the UK. The new company employs 50 people, who will work remotely.
The site currently sells single-destination trips by air only but a spokesman said multi-stop trips and other transport options such as train and ferry are “under consideration”.
A spokesman for the new smaller company said: “We won’t have those dedicated buses and reps with clipboards round the pool. But we think people want to design their own holidays now.”
The new company hopes to sell holidays to up to 50,000 passengers a year.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? travel, warned consumers to be cautious when it comes to booking holidays, with some holiday providers failing on their legal obligation to refund customers for cancellations in recent months. .
“While some previous Thomas Cook customers may be pleased to see it relaunching as an online travel agent, the events of the past few months should act as a reminder that just because a brand is a household name it does not mean you can necessarily rely on it to treat you fairly,” he said.
“While package holidays booked through Thomas Cook would be Atol protected, many of the big online travel agents have proven time and time again through the pandemic they aren’t able to offer the same level of protection or customer service as better, traditional tour operators, making it difficult to secure refunds that customers are legally owed for cancelled holidays.”
Meanwhile a group of former Thomas Cook staff are set to launch a separate tour operation business called Sunny Heart Travel, selling beach resorts, cruises and tours from its Peterborough base.
• This article was amended on 22 September 2020. An earlier version mistakenly said Atol protection was proving less secure in recent months. The intended reference was not to Atol protection, but to holiday providers failing on the obligations laid out by the Package Travel Regulations.