Phil Gardner, sales and e-commerce director, Thomas Cook, was quick to admit the company had not initially been transparent with third party agents around the trial, but said he wanted to address that.
Gardner was speaking exclusively to TTG at the Freedom Travel Group conference this week; having held closed conference sessions with Freedom members in order to address recent issues, including Cook’s decision to hold pricing trials, which had in some instances led to huge disparity in prices available to third party agents and online.
“There was no announcement [to the trade],” Gardner admitted.
“We had a new structure announced at the end of September around the new UK board and at that point the responsibility for the trial wasn’t mine completely.
“I didn’t own the way it was done.
“One of the advantages of the new structure is that as someone who’s out in the industry quite a bit I have the opportunity to be far more transparent around what we’re doing in both of those areas [e-commerce and commercial sales]. There’s no hiding.
“I’m happy to put that out there in those terms because it’s on me to explain it right. I’m very confident of our ability to do that in time.”
Gardner said as recently as Wednesday (December 5) he had been “taking on a huge amount of feedback”.
“I’ve been taking on the feedback from the team as to the way ahead,” he said.
“I’ve come up with some options which all make sense in one way or another and I’m working closely with the trade – both Freedom and elsewhere – to help fuel the thinking around what we do and how we do it.
“That’s a key change we’ve made versus September and October when there was a load of stuff going on which no one knew anything about.”
Gardner said agents had been receptive of the fact Cook had moved to be more upfront about the trials.
“But let’s be frank – we needed to be,” he said. “We’ve come under some criticism for not having done it before and I think that’s fair.
“We need to be transparent with people and we did a good job of being transparent with the agent community – with really positive feedback – until we ran the pricing trial.
“It’s my job to make sure the lessons we’ve learned over the past couple of years – which have been very positive – are taken into account.”
Gardner said he had given “a bit of clarity” on the trials to Freedom members.
“I’ve shared a bit of the rationale as to what’s happening within the business… what some of our drivers are and allowing them to influence some thinking around what the landscape might look like in peaks and beyond,” he said.
Gardner added Cook was “very supportive” of the business it receive from the trade.
“They’re an important channel for us and in my job at the minute with e-commerce joining my structure I’m keen to replicate the level of openness and honesty that we’d created with our e-commerce pricing in the same way we have with revised deals and things that we put in place over the past couple of years.
“E-commerce and the trade both sit within my remit so there will be no suggestion around something that another channel has done that I’m not influencing or can’t talk about.”
Asked whether the pricing trials marked the beginning of a phasing out of third party agents for Cook, Gardner said “absolutely not”.
“We are 100% going to carry on working with third party agents,” he said. “The main thing we’ll be doing moving forward is working with people who want to work with us – within certain circumstances.
“We have broad appeal but we don’t necessarily appeal to everybody, because everybody has their specialisms.
“My job is not to pretend that everyone is going to want to do huge volumes [with us].
“But we’ll work closely with those we’ve built fantastic relationships with over the past few years, make sure we recognise that where we can and continue to work with them in the right way.
“It’s not the start of a phasing out, absolutely not.
“Two of three years ago when we came back into the trade we did pick up a rough reputation because Thomas Cook had been through some tough times and we needed to fix that. I’m actually very proud of what we’ve achieved in that regard over the past couple of years.
“My job now is to be a bit cleverer about it.
“I think there’s some great opportunity both commercially and in terms of customer proposition for a lot of people out there.
“We believe we have a great product and as our chief executive has said recently there are some key parts of our strategy which are fundamentally right and need to be executed at a faster pace. Sales of our branded portfolio is fundamental to that.
“That’s something I want every channel to benefit from including the independent trade. We will absolutely apply that to the trade as much as our own channels because it’s an important part of what we do.”