The UK boss of Tui has paid tribute to its collapsed rival Thomas Cook which “invented our industry”, saying the two firms were “explicitly intertwined”.
UK and Ireland managing director Andrew Flintham was due to join Cook earlier this year in the same role but remained at Tui after being offered an internal promotion last year.
Speaking to Travel Weekly at an event to launch an expanded Tui Tours on Wednesday, he said: “When we pitched this event we didn’t have any idea of what was going to happen in the travel industry this week. Thomas Cook invented our industry and is our oldest competitor. When you are dealing with [the failure of] a competitor and a rivalry goes back decades it’s an incredibly sad day.
“People who know the travel industry will understand. The businesses [Tui and Thomas Cook] are almost explicitly intertwined, and there are husbands and wives who work across both. They are colleagues as part of our industry, and friends.”
Flintham explained how Tui had customers booked on Cook flights and lost bookings on its own flights made through Cook agents.
He called for “time to breathe” and urged the initial focus to be on helping repatriation efforts. “The events of the week are so fresh, we are still working with the CAA trying to put rescue flights on. You have to take time to breathe to decide what the [travel] world looks like post these events. The implications are far-reaching, and lots of things will bubble up.
“Hopefully we are past the stage of hotels throwing people out. The whole point of bonding is so that doesn’t happen.”
Flintham said there was still plenty of competition in the package space through the likes of Jet2holidays and On The Beach.
On the high street, he said: “It [Cook] is an iconic name and part of the social fabric – there’s an impact on every high street. There will be Tui and Thomas Cook on lots of high streets.”
Asked if Cook’s collapse would create an opportunity for Tui and other agencies, Flintham said: “The whole world is changing – including the high street – and you have to be in every channel. We will have to wait and see how it evolves.
“If it changes the way we do things it changes the way we do things, but we will get through it. Look at the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max – we didn’t plan for that but we’ve adapted to it. Will people still want to go on holiday? Yeah, they will.”
He paid tribute to Cook staff, many of whom he had worked with previously at Tui, including retail director Kathryn Darbandi, sales, e-commerce and marketing director Phil Gardner and chief of tour operating Will Waggott.
“They have got some amazingly good people and many of us could have chosen Thomas Cook as our company. What’s happened isn’t a reference to the people they had, it was external circumstances.”