Former head of Freedom Travel Group Matt Harding has joined Travel Counsellors as head of strategy for independent agents.

In the new role, Harding will be tasked with building on Travel Counsellors’ success of attracting independent agency owners to its homeworking business model.

Harding, who joined this week after leaving Cook in October, was head of Freedom for a year and prior to that was senior manager of business operations from April 2017. The Freedom travel agency consortium collapsed as part of the Thomas Cook Group in September.

Harding has in the past worked in management roles for Thomas Cook and MyTravel.

His appointment comes as the group reports that nearly 50 former Cook staff have launched new travel businesses with Travel Counsellors by the end of this month.

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Managing director Kirsten Hughes said: “Over the years we have attracted a number of previous agency owners to the company, and with a 25-year tenure in the travel industry, Matt is well placed to continue our focus on supporting them to take advantage of the tools and technology platform we offer, ensuring that the dedicated support we provide is attuned to agency owners’ requirements.

“Matt brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience to further support this growing area of the business, which enables experienced travel professionals to enjoy a seamless transition to become corporate and leisure Travel Counsellors, taking advantage of the opportunity to employ assistance in line with the needs of their customers too.”

Harding said he was “truly pleased and humbled” to be able to join Travel Counsellors to develop a strategy for independent agency owners and help others continue to run their businesses.

He said: “Along with so many people affected I was devastated by the collapse of Thomas Cook, and with it The Freedom Travel Group. We fostered a real family feel at Freedom and I’m pleased to see that many members and homeworkers have been able to continue to run their businesses.

“As soon as the news broke I was engaged by Thomas Cook Group’s liquidators to support them in their obligations with the regulators to try to minimise any further disruption to the members and homeworkers businesses. Not having control of the business felt really alien to me, and not being able to support the Freedom members and homeworkers directly was really tough.

“Following later conversations with Travel Counsellors’ senior management team, it became clear that there was a real opportunity to support independent travel agency owners, many of whom I am still in touch with, in ensuring the continued success of their businesses for years to come, backed by the support of complete financial protection.”

Last month the company appointed two former Thomas Cook regional managers Darren Bien and Jayne Marlor.

Hughes added: “With 20% of Travel Counsellor business owners already hailing from the Thomas Cook community in the last five years, we’re keen to ensure new joiners feel at home. The appointment of Darren and Jayne, now followed by Matt, is supporting us to do just that.”