When Harriet Green unveiled Thomas Cook’s “sunny heart” logo at the end of 2013, she said the branding showed “a unification of care for our customers, through every step of their journey”.
You can understand why some of the British public might currently be questioning whether Thomas Cook cares for its customers at all. The way the operator has handled the inquest into the tragic deaths of Christi and Bobby Shepherd in Corfu in 1999 has been unbelievably poor (page 7).
“Declining to comment” has painted both Cook’s boss at the time, Manny Fontenla-Novoa, and its current chief, Peter Fankhauser, as unfeeling and ambivalent to the case, more concerned with legal vulnerability than showing compassion to the parents - even though we know they both feel deep regret for what happened.
It’s tough on Fankhauser to be taking the rap for something that happened years before he was involved in the UK business. But as today’s chief executive, the buck stops with him. It’s hard to believe Cook’s no-doubt expensive lawyers couldn’t come up with something more heartfelt that he was able to say.
It’s difficult to tell how much long-term damage will be done to the Cook brand. The reaction on social media would seem to imply a widespread backlash, with customers cancelling holidays and signing petitions in their droves (page 5). If indicative of the general feeling of the nation, it could be particularly damaging to Cook as we near the all-important lates market in the next two months.
Yet the company’s share price had not, at the time of going to press, seen a significant dip, and we’ve seen other travel brands recover from such challenges before, whether that takes weeks or months or years.
The sun is far from shining on Cook this week, but the Corfu case is also far from over. With the coroner set to make recommendations to Cook and more widely later this year, there will be further opportunities for Cook to show more heart. Let’s hope it takes them.