New Thomas Cook UK MD promises ‘cultural change’

New Thomas Cook UK managing director Salman Syed has outlined four key priorities for the business under his helm along with a cultural change in the way the business connects with staff and customers.

Speaking for the first time to Travel Weekly, he said the four areas of focus for the UK business were: the customer; creating a successful omni-channel business combining the use of shops, web and call centre in the sales process; product development, particularly innovation; and staff.

He added: “Our people are a great asset and taking that engagement to the next level is going to be our priority. We have a lot to celebrate; we need to be proud of our heritage and the trust customers have in us. We need to do more to keep that trust and earn more trust.”

Syed said the group’s high-street shops were “very much” part of the business’ omni-channel approach as well as focusing on improving the experience for customers using the telephone, web, mobile phones or tablets. Almost half of UK web traffic is now through mobile or tablet devices, he said, but less than half of bookings are made online.

“There is still a lot more we can do to add value and improve the customer experience,” he said. “We are committed to the high-street.”

Syed would not comment on the future of The Co-operative Travel brand on the high-street but added: “I am extra optimistic about the future. We have to be focused on cost and on growth and I think it’s a balance for us.”

In light of rival Tui Travel’s decision to launch an early peak season marketing push, Syed promised  “a few surprises” with a peak season campaign of “greater impact than last year”. He would not be drawn on the details of the campaign.

Syed also pledged to introduce a cultural change to the business to improve the company’s connection with customers, with a more personal approach, and a more open relationship with its own staff with an “inclusive leadership” approach. Already 150 top managers in the business, including Syed, are to “adopt a store”. They will be tasked with spending five full days in a shop during the next year to improve their understanding and needs of the business.

He added: “We want a more personal and much closer emotional connection with the customers because ultimately this a big part of the experience. I will be in shops and doing mystery-shopping and talking to our people. It’s the culture that we are trying to drive and change.”

Syed was named UK MD earlier this month. He joined the group in April this year as managing director of commercialisation, supporting chief executive Peter Fankhauser in the management of UK operations.

Today he announced a shake-up of his senior management team, with Stefanie Berk promoted to the role of product and yield director following Uli Sperl’s return to Germany to become head of transformation, central product unit.

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