Independent agents are alive and flourishing, says Miles Morgan Travel managing director Miles Morgan

If you read the newspapers, you’d be forgiven for thinking Thomas Cook’s failure was brought about because it had too many shops, when the trend is towards booking travel online. I get frustrated with the constant high street bashing and the general mood that ‘high street equals bad’. While this has been partly true, it also did not help itself with some business decisions.


More:  Job resource centre and advice for Thomas Cook staff

Interview: Thomas Cook ‘failed to grasp rescue chance in 2012’

CAA chair accompanies 400 Thomas Cook passengers


Cook made some poor decisions, even without the benefits of hindsight. The Going Places and Co-Operative Travel stores were unnecessary. There was duplication in towns when, even then, online sales had growing momentum.

Self-inflicted problems

Cook’s retail performance suffered because of other factors that were self-inflicted. It built its business on being a travel agent and enjoyed that position during its heyday. The problems started when Cook changed strategy to focus on internal sales. Staff were told to sell Cook’s own tour operator at all costs; third-party sales were frowned upon and certainly not rewarded. This had two big impacts. Cook lost amazing staff who wanted to still be a full-service travel agent, and loyal customers who did not want a Cook holiday every time they entered a shop.

These factors hit shop profitability hugely. I went to see the fab Cook staff last week. I’ve seen their passion, but I’ve also seen their shops’ sales –
a sorry downhill graph that was not of their making. The online discounting of their own brand was the final straw for the staff and any chance their shops had. It helped the tour operator versus its online competition, but it killed Cook’s high street shops.

They couldn’t fill that void with third-party sales and were just left to decline. Their decision to stop selling Jet2holidays a few years ago was a sign of the path they were taking. Instead of trying to understand why people wanted to buy Jet2holidays and adapting, they simply stopped selling them, hoping the problem would go away. This assisted the growth of independent agents and caused more pain for Cook’s great staff on the high street.

Filling the void

The independent agent is alive and flourishing, filling the void left by Cook. That has already begun, starting years ago when they, in effect, ‘left the high street’ as a full-service travel agent.

Yes, online booking growth is there, but the number of agents on the high street has declined hugely – meaning plenty of opportunity, especially for bold agents. The online game is also there for high street agents to exploit themselves, certainly at Miles Morgan Travel, as a growing amount of our business comes from online. The high street is struggling, but travel is one of the bright spots, with savvy agents doing well today. They will do well tomorrow, too.

Finally, a word for Cook staff. You are proud people from a once-proud business, your job loss was not down to you and you should always remember that. I was around when International Leisure Group went bust in 1991. Some of the stellar stars of our industry today lost their jobs when that happened and rose to have amazing careers. Opportunities still exist today, so go for it, hold your heads up high – and good luck.

More:  Job resource centre and advice for Thomas Cook staff

Interview: Thomas Cook ‘failed to grasp rescue chance in 2012’

CAA chair accompanies 400 Thomas Cook passengers