Phil Gardner, head of commercial, sales and relations, was speaking to TTG at the Freedom Travel Group conference in Nottingham, after it was announced last week that Kelly Cookes, head of Freedom, will now report to him and form part of the UK’s commercial sales and relations team.
Gardner said Thomas Cook had a “unique opportunity to provide people with alternative choices” elsewhere in the business, following the store closures.
If confirmed, the 50 upcoming closures will take place between now and March 2018. It follows the shutting of 39 shops in February and 17 in May, plus the loss of 51 homeworking jobs in April.
Around 400 people will be affected, but Gardner confirmed that the intention was to redeploy a large number.
“The shop closures are driven by an efficiency drive in the retail estate as well as the fact growth in online has accelerated, which has basically driven a catalyst around the retail network. Our first priority within retail is to redeploy existing retail staff within retail as much as we can,” he said.
In 2017, 47% of Cook holidays were booked in-store, but online sales in the UK grew by 27%.
Gardner continued: “Clearly there comes a point where the numbers just don’t match up [in terms of redeploying staff within the retail network]. And when that happens, because we’re a wider group that includes Freedom, we have a real advantage versus others in that we can consider other options for people… it’s a nice thing to be able to do.
“As a wider group we have a responsibility to treat people in the right way.”
Gardner agreed there weren’t always roles available, but added that “an awful lot” of staff were usually kept on within the business following store closures. However, he said each situation had to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
“If you’ve got a town where two shops are going into one, clearly redeploying everyone is very difficult. But we are opening stores as well.”
Cookes added: “From our [Freedom] point of view, we’ve always got that door open to talk to people that want to join us.
“We’ve got examples of homeworkers who found that Freedom has something to offer, and more rare – but it does happen – is people actually opening up their own business.”