This time last year was the toughest day of my career. Following the news in the early hours of the morning that the rescue plan to save the Thomas Cook business had failed, most of the UK businesses were placed into liquidation.
On the morning of 23 September, I was one of a number of senior leaders in the UK business who had to share the devastating news with colleagues that they no longer had a job
I had to tell 195 people that their time with Thomas Cook was over. I’m sure many of you reading this have your own memories of that day. This was made even worse when it became clear the administration process meant we were not able to speak directly with business partners and agents, many of whom suffered a significant financial loss.
One year on, that memory for me – as it must be for so many of you – is still as vivid.
I know when I speak to some they want to forget it, others want to come together with old friends and former colleagues and reminisce about the good times.
What I do know is that what made Thomas Cook special – and so important to so many of us in the travel industry – is that it was filled with people who cared deeply about the business and its customers. The loss of 178 years of history, and a place of work for decades for lots of former colleagues, cut deep.
When the chance arose to restore the brand and build a new Thomas Cook, one that had the same ethos of great people and customer care as the old, but with the freedom and resources to make some big changes, I couldn’t resist. A small team of former employees wanted to find the right investor to make our dream of rebuilding a new business a reality. And, in Fosun, we found the perfect partner.
Today, thanks to its backing and investment, we are running a holiday company called Thomas Cook that shares as much as it can with the old business, but does it in a modern and digital way.
Nothing I say, can ease the pain of that day – especially for those people who lost jobs and either remain without them or have suffered again because of coronavirus.
One year on, life is still tough for many people and I know that hearing the news of the relaunch of Thomas Cook could bring back some difficult memories.
The team here at the new Thomas Cook – many of whom used to work in the old business – is every bit as proud to wear the sunny heart as the rest of us did before. And although we are small now, we have big ambitions to grow and take on even more people in time.
On Wednesday 16 September, the same team that had the difficult job of switching off thomascook.com once the liquidation was confirmed, switched it back on to herald a fresh start. The pride was palpable and the tears this time were of joy.
To those of you still suffering from the collapse of the old business, I hope that things will improve for you soon. To those of you who’ve been in touch to wish us well, thank you. And to the rest of the industry, good luck during these difficult times and stay safe.
Phil Gardner is chief commercial officer at Thomas Cook
Join Alan French, chief executive, Thomas Cook; Rory Boland, editor, Which? Travel and Jo Kolatsis, partner, Themis Advisory as they explore the future of OTAs, in the wake of two of the UK’s largest OTAs quitting Abta over a disagreement on package travel regulations.