[INTERVIEW] Alan French, CEO of Thomas Cook
Ahead of The Retail Conference, we talk to our headline speaker Alan French, CEO from Thomas Cook.
What’s your background?
I’ve worked in retail for decades – first Boots and then Marks and Spencer where in both places I led major investment in technology and online transformation programmes. Following that, I moved to Thomas Cook which at the time had one of the largest high street travel footprints in Europe and only a patchy digital offering. Ultimately, I led the former business’ strategy and digital division responsible for trying to turn the holiday retail giant into a successful multi-channel operation.
On the day of the collapse of that business, I worked with a small group of former colleagues to write an investment plan to revive the brand in a new digital-only form. Three years on, I am now proud to run the reborn, online-only Thomas Cook which has grown from just the UK launch in 2020 to this year operating in Netherlands and Belgium despite the challenges of the past two years.
What are some of the challenges the industry faces today?
There’s clearly been a shift to online over the pandemic, but certainly what we’ve seen in the travel sector is significant barriers to customers considering buying and then being able to actually take their holidays. We’ve had to provide as much reassurance as possible – both at the point of purchase through price guarantees, free amendments and cancellations – as well as considerable back-up support with customer service.
Overall, we’ve had around more than twice the number of contacts per booking in the past year than would be typical which has brought significant challenges – especially with high cancellation rates owing to flight changes, illness or nervousness to leave the country.
Overall, what we are seeing though is that customers appreciate the support and reassurance that comes with booking a package holiday – and that’s something that plays to our strength.
“Don’t just book it” launched 4 months ago, how’s that going?
When we brought back the Thomas Cook name we knew that brand recognition would be critical to our success. As part of our major marketing push this year with the return of travel, we chose to also bring back a slogan that is closely linked with Thomas Cook to help us achieve as much recognition as we could for the new company as we could with a small investment. And it worked – awareness jumped by about 20% after the campaign and helped us to make the most of the pent-up demand for summer holidays.
What can we expect to hear from you at TRC22?
I’m looking forward to sharing the story of the rebirth of this famous brand – and transformation into a purely online business. It’s been a challenging few years setting up a new business from scratch, building a platform and a team from the ground up entirely remotely, and then launching and running the business during an extended period of immense upheaval in our lives and the travel sector in particular. It’s been an interesting journey.
We are now less than a week away from The Retail Bulletin’s flagship The Retail Conference where over 50 retail trailblazers will be discussing how to excel and innovate in today’s world of retail. Book your free tickets here.