Launching a new travel brand during a pandemic is brave. Launching a travel brand synonymous with failure is even braver. But backed by a new owner and a reinvented online-only model, Thomas Cook is back.
The move to online-only makes sense. Its airline was conspicuously old-fashioned. And in a market today polarised between low-cost, low frills short haul airlines and luxury, long-haul carriers, it lost any sense of differentiation it once had. But have no doubts about it, this is a risky move. Unless it reinvents itself, especially in the new era of travel, it will carry all the bad baggage of the past and risk going in the same direction: down.
The travel industry has always been predicated on safety being a primary issue. Without the notion of safety, people will not travel. During this pandemic, this is now the case more than ever, making the travel sector a very challenging one to be in. The brands that will come out of this situation the fastest and the best will be the ones that demonstrate a thorough approach to safety.
For airports this may include things like how they manage lounges and how they organise queues at the check-in desk. For airlines it will be how they arrange seating in their cabins. Ultimately, the winners will be the ones that demonstrate they can be trusted in this new era of heightened hygiene, health and safety.
That is the opportunity for Thomas Cook. By learning the lessons from the past and being responsive to the needs of travellers and passengers as we adapt to the new ways of travel, the brand has the chance to be at the vanguard in this new era of travel, a brand that is empathetic to customer requirements, safety conscious and, crucially, agile.
It will take hard work and time to reposition the travel brand in the market. Let’s be honest, we have long memories. And it will not be enough to simply state its market position and bank on its name being enough. Thomas Cook needs to rebuild trust – that starts with its brand but also extends to the destinations it offers to consumers.
Historically, travel and tourism has been about adventure – experiencing something different from everyday life. But now people are looking for reassurance. The travel industry – from airlines to destinations – will need to balance the paradoxical components of adventure and safety.
But that is not all. The pandemic will likely change the reasons people are travelling as much as it will change the frequency and cost people travel at. A lot of people will question the value of flying and travelling. Thomas Cook needs to find new ways to reframe the travel experience and a reason for passengers to fall in love with travel again.
There is no denying that this will be a challenge for the new Thomas Cook. Its name and recent history won’t help. But if it is able to confront these challenges, learn the lessons from its past and tap into its heritage and pedigree in holiday destinations, it may stand a fighting chance.
Peter Knapp is chairman and chief creative officer at global branding consultancy Landor.