Don’t Just Book It . . .

Thomas Cook It!

Sadly, no longer! One of the world’s best known holiday brands, since 1841 Thomas Cook, has taken millions of holidaymakers around the world, responding to and creating a growing market and an emerging hunger for foreign travel.

It created the way in which we spent our holidays exploring a bigger, wider world that the majority of people had only ever dreamed of.

Those of a ‘certain age’, spotting the once ubiquitous red and white logo will smile indulgently in recognition of the incredible family friendliness the brand continues to enjoy. To go into a local travel agent, pick up a few brochures, consult with the family and return to book a holiday was an event, a part of the complete experience.

When Leicestershire cabinet-maker Thomas Cook founded the business it was more for local excursions than foreign holidays but as a former Baptist preacher, he wanted to offer working class people a form of educational entertainment to divert them from drinking!.

The UK’s newly created railway system persuaded him to offer his first trip, from Leicester to Loughborough, at the cost of a shilling per head for the twelve miles round trip. Those travelling were so-called ‘temperance supporters’ and supporting the prohibition of alcohol. The visit was such a success that Thomas Cook repeated it over several summers on behalf of Sunday schools which laid the foundations for the business.

After having pioneered trips around the British Isles and to London’s Great Exhibition, in 1855 Thomas Cook set his sights across the Channel to Paris where the International Exhibition was being held. His commercial tour there, which fuelled an interest in easier access to other European destinations, was a huge success, and before long Thomas Cook was taking travellers to America, Asia and the Middle East. The company flourished, fuelled by the growing middle classes and their desire to travel. When, in 1892, Thomas Cook died his son, John Mason Cook took over running the company from his father.

It stayed in family hands, Thomas Cook’s grandsons adding winter sports, motor car tours and commercial air travel to its offerings during the early part of the 20th until suddenly at the end of the 20’s it changed hands for the first time when the grandsons unexpectedly sold the business to the owner of the Orient Express.

At the outbreak of World War Two, Thomas Cook was nationalised by the British government as part of British Railways, to save it from the Nazi occupation. The post-war years saw a holiday boom in the UK, taking holidaymakers on package holidays abroad but also to its holiday camp in Prestatyn, North Wales.

By the 70’s Thomas Cook had been taken private and expanded its network of High Street travel shops through a string of acquisitions beyond which it went global with its airline business coming into being in 1999.

But despite its swift and heady expansion Thomas Cook retained a dedicated UK following, ferrying some 20 million people on holiday each year. The end it would seem has been swift and ignominious. Stories of mismanagement of funds and enormous Executive pay-offs are rife in the press and on the news channels. I shall follow their fate as it rolls out but when it comes down to the brass buttons,  all’s fair in love and big business!

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