“Thomas Cook’s collapse represented more a failure of corporate finance than of travel.”
Those were some of the opening words of Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer addressing delegates at The Travel Convention in Tokyo.
He said: “Political extremism has its counterpart in financial extremism… the failure of Thomas Cook is more a failure of corporate finance than a failure of travel.
“After all, the company did sell £9.5 billion of holidays last year, and had a million people either abroad or ready to travel, so they were clearly doing something right.
“The depiction of it as a dinosaur in a digital age really masks the true problem.”
Tanzer said while Cook’s financial challenges were no secret, the “full extent of their indebtedness” had only come to light recently. Cook paid £1.2 billion in finance charges over the past six years, plus advisory fees, he added.
“Those were profits from its holiday business, money that in a more balanced financial model would have been available to invest and develop the business,” he continued. “We know now that this was definitely a case of financial exaggeration, and all that is exaggerated cannot last.”
Tanzer went on to state that Abta “understands the impatience of customers to receive payment so that they can rebook holidays” and expressed his view that Cook’s collapse demonstrated that the package travel regulations, the Atol scheme for flight packages and Abta for the rest, “work”.
“The funds are in place and capable teams have been working hard to look after customers,” he said.
“Far from signalling the demise of the package holiday, the Thomas Cook failure has been its vindication.”
Tanzer acknowledged a lot of “anger and fear” remains around Cook’s collapse.
“The pain is being felt very widely in our industry, by tour operators, travel agents, hotels and other suppliers.
“We really do have to work together at this moment, to maintain customer confidence, to find new homes for displaced businesses, and to try to recruit former Thomas Cook staff, who constitute an immense repository of talent and experience.
“When that job is done, we can and should ask what lessons can be learned, especially about when money is collected and when it passed on, when people and companies are financially protected and when not.
“And at the very least we need to ensure that everyone in the chain understands the system and makes commercial decisions on an informed basis.”
He concluded: “The challenge we face in these difficult times is to hold our nerve, remind ourselves of what is enduring and important, and be confident that we can steer ourselves into a prosperous and sustainable future.
“What I am confident about is that the travel industry, which is both competitive and resilient, will expand to fill the space left by Thomas Cook’s demise.”