Demise of giant could have knock-on effect, says Steve Dunne, CEO of Digital Drums

I was sat in a coffee shop yesterday afternoon just a few hours after the world had heard that Thomas Cook, perhaps the most famous travel brand of them all, had collapsed. I was enjoying the last of the summer sunshine while reading the daily papers which were, predictably, dissecting the demise of the travel industry giant on their front pages.

At the table next to me were two couples drinking coffee and chatting, as people do all over the country every day in coffee shops. But what they were saying caught my attention. They were talking about Thomas Cook and it was one sentence that had me thinking.

“What about Thomas Cook then?,” said one chap to his three coffee drinking friends. “I mean, if you can’t trust a famous travel brand like that what travel company can you trust?”

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From his perspective, he had a point. Thomas Cook is a household name. Even if you have never had a holiday with them, they were on your high street, advertising in your newspaper or on your television screen. Everyone, it seems, remembers the “Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it” strapline. And everyone knows someone who has had a Thomas Cook holiday.

The collapse of one of the world’s most iconic travel brands is heart-breaking. For the customers whose holiday was disrupted, for the consumer whose holiday has been cancelled, for the 9,000 employees who no longer have a job and for the suppliers who will have their business impacted by Cook’s demise.

But because the Thomas Cook name is so famous; so familiar to the ordinary consumer there is a strong possibility of what marketers call “the ripple effect” whereby the damage to one brand spreads like the ripple on a pond to touch other players in the sector.

The long-term effect on the travel industry from the demise of the Thomas Cook brand could be a drop in the trust that consumers have with the medium-sized and smaller tour operating brands and travel agency chains they use. After all, if the mighty Thomas Cook can collapse what chance do smaller brands have?

The sad fact is that most consumers don’t look beyond the headlines – be it an advertisement, an editorial in a newspaper or a report on the evening news they don’t see the detail behind it. Atol means little to them; the CAA is just another set of initials.

They vaguely know that the government has a mechanism to repatriate them but, as one man on the television news at the airport yesterday morning said to a reporter: “I’ve just been told I can’t go to my brother’s wedding in the Maldives. I’ll get my money back, but that’s not the point, I’ve missed my brother’s wedding”.

And that is going to be the mission for the whole of the travel trade over the next few weeks. Demonstrating that the industry can still be trusted. That while Thomas Cook was a big brand its problems were not typical of the vast majority of the industry.

And that job has to start straight away before the damaged consumer confidence takes hold and changes the travel habits of the British holidaymaker.

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