Thomas Cook has pledged its support for independent agents with its head of merchandising claiming the operator can’t achieve its growth ambitions without the trade.

Phil Gardner, who joined Thomas Cook six months ago from rival Tui, told delegates that third party agents remained a key part of the operator’s distribution strategy.

His comments come after Advantage and Thomas Cook agreed a new two-year commercial deal, rather than shorter deals previously in place.

He told delegates that despite Thomas Cook’s brand recognition, the operator “needed everyone in the room” if its to realise its growth ambitions.

The operator, which was a headline sponsor at this year’s Advantage Conference, has pledged to work closely with the trade.

Speaking in a panel session moderated by Travel Weekly’s editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley, Gardner said

“We’ve been through tough times but where we are today is that we have developed a clear strategy for growth. That’s good news for us, but it’s also good news for everyone in the room (agents), because we have big ambitions.

“We’ve looked at who we need to work with to get the best results and we work very close with Advantage and I’m delighted that we have a new commercial deal in place. We have a two year deal because we wanted to show our commitment.

“Independent agents are absolutely a key part of our distribution model at Thomas Cook. Because we are looking to grow capacity over the next couple of years we simply can’t do it without you.

“We may have a website and lots of shops but we can’t achieve the growth we want to without the support of the trade.”

Gardner also claimed he also had intentions to support Advantage’s Partnership Charter, which currently has 87 companies signed up.