‘We can compete on quality’ with budget carriers, says Cook

Thomas Cook is confident it can compete on quality with no-frills giants Ryanair and easyJet in their short-haul heartlands.

The travel firm announced yesterday it had brought in celebrity chef James Martin to create menus from summer 2012 for its airline.

Martin, presenter of BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, was last associated with the travel industry when he was the in-house celebrity chef for cruise line Ocean Village that was closed in 2010.

Cook bosses said they believed customers were looking for more quality and that Martin, described as the “housewives’ favourite” would bring that.

At a media briefing in London yesterday Cook said the big winners this year in terms of destinations look likely to be Spain, Greece and Italy; short-haul destinations dominated by the budget carriers.

However, Ian Ailles mainstream managing director, said he was sure Thomas Cook’s focus on the quality of the flying experience would stand it in good stead.

“I’m convinced we can compete on quality,” he said. “There is a range of choice for consumers that includes Ryanair and easyJet and people make their choices based on a range of criteria.

“Some of the feedback is that our customers are saying when they go on holiday they want to feel like it, not that they are being sold a utility.”

Ailles said the decision to employ Martin was not based around his celebrity status but the added quality he would bring to the airline.

“Over the years we have seen the flight experience almost downgraded but people feel the holiday starts at the moment they walk out of their front door.

“If we do not talk about quality, I think that’s a failing of the industry. We are here to deliver great quality on the aircraft.”

Ailles said the airline would respond to customer demand and that more capacity had been added to Turkey and Italy as a result.

Egypt, however, remains a challenging destination, said Ailles, due to cost and what he described as the “erroneous” APD classification which means a family of four paying £400 more than on a flight to Tunisia.

Thomas Cook presented latest booking trends that showed mainland Spain was the most popular destination and the most cost-effective for British holidaymakers.

Ailles said the Greek islands were being seen as an “authentic” destination and that tourism had not been hit by the recent troubles caused by the country’s austerity measures.

Italy was also “coming back”, interest was being revived in Turkey, and Tunisia, another good-value destination, was bouncing back well after last year’s Arab Spring revolution.

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