The collapse of Thomas Cook, one the most high-profile
company failures in the history of the travel industry, will be pored over by
analysts for years to come.
Factors such as on-and-off financial difficulties since its
merger with MyTravel in 2007, political unrest in some of its destinations,
unseasonably warm summer weather in some of its home markets and many other
trends have been thrown into the melting pot of reasons why it failed so
dramatically and with mountains of debt.
The tour operator giant's IT and digital strategy are also
key parts of its failure to evolve at the same speed as its rival TUI and the
customers it was serving at the turn of the decade.
Rather than understanding that increasingly more travelers
were happy to book their own trips online and, therefore, it should adapt its
model to target specific groups (luxury or all-inclusive, for example), Thomas
Cook forged ahead with plans to build its own online travel agency and continue
with selling mass-market products that were being sold elsewhere.
The inevitable failure of the OTA idea before it even got
off the ground and a reluctance to shift the packaging model to something that
would differentiate it from nimble, asset-light competitors was enough to put
the company always on the back foot when it came to digitalization of the
The arrival of Harriet Green as CEO in 2012, whilst
initially heralded in the financial community as a business-saving appointment,
also coincided with job losses, corporate restructuring and rebranding projects
that left some scratching their heads.
What Green did bring was the first sign of a serious digital
strategy, having ran another technology business in the shape of Premier
Farnell -- or at least it sounded like one.
In early 2014, Green explained precisely what a business in
crisis would look like:
• Disconnected online business
• No omni-channel experience
• Zero digital
experience at senior board level
• No culture of "digitization" in the company
• Poor online customer experience
• Siloed approach, making it difficult to implement a
Her digital transformation project for Thomas Cook had some
early results but her sudden departure later that year once again stalled any
serious attempt to fully modernize the company.
To illustrate just how serious Thomas Cook was beginning to
take the problems it faced with its online and technology strategy, Green hired
a former Premier Farnell colleague in the shape of Marco Ryan to be Thomas
Cook's first chief digital officer.
Ryan took on the role a month before her exit from the
company -- but he was also gone within 10 months.
The vision for Thomas Cook's digital strategy (not, it must
be noted, a full-blown strategy that would beat off the company's wider
problems) was hinted at, not during Ryan's actual tenure, but two years later
during a TEDx Talk in 2017 from Ryan -- a year which coincided with the
beginning of the end for his former company.