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Hundreds of the travel industry’s most-forward-thinking executives will gather for our third annual Skift Forum Europe in London on April 30. In just a few years, Skift's Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”
Focusing on responsible travel practices and other key issues, Skift Forum Europe 2019 will take place at Tobacco Dock in London. The Forum will feature speakers, including CEOs and top executives from British Airways, IHG, Thomas Cook, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Silversea, Uber, and many more.
The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond.
Thomas Cook is one of the world’s oldest travel companies, but some of its recent product launches and offerings have put a new spin on group travel and mass tourism.
Thomas Cook Group CEO Peter Fankhauser has said the company must keep pace in an increasingly digital world. Nearly 40 percent of Thomas Cook’s UK bookings now take place online, and that mark hit 92 percent in Scandinavian countries last year, the company said.
Thomas Cook wants to offer an online booking experience or an in-person one in its stores or over the phone, and that’s part of its goal to individualize the mass-market tourism sector depending on customer preferences.
Last year, the company announced it would let travelers choose their hotel rooms — the actual room — before departure, and launched a hotel brand to cater to families and an adults-only crowd, depending on needs and preferences.
At Skift Forum Europe in Berlin April 26, Fankhauser will discuss reinventing mass-market tourism and what that means for Europe.
What follows is an edited version of a recent Skift interview with Fankhauser.
Skift: Earlier this month, you brought Thomas Cook’s first group of UK travelers back to Tunisia since 2015. What’s changed on the ground that helped you decide to re-enter the market?
Peter Fankhauser: Our customers are really excited. My team, which on the first flight, told me that locals in Sousse were waiting at the airport to greet our customers when the plane arrived. That’s not something I’ve seen before. Tourism is a big contribution to their gross domestic product and development of the people there. We have 10 hotels in Tunisia and will have six flights a week for this coming summer. But Tunisia has also really stepped up the security. We’re not a security company, but we can do what we can as a tour operator to offer a quality product.
Skift: Many travelers like the idea and convenience of mass-market tourism. But increasingly travelers don’t want to be perceived as part of large tour groups that make them stand out when they want to blend in and meet locals. How has that impacted your thinking about serving large volumes of people?
Fankhauser: We decided to individualize the mass market. Every customer is treated as an individual. If you have a problem in the first 24 hours of your trip, we’ll solve it within 24 hours or you get 25 percent of your price back. We’ve also added services like choosing your room in advance. The pilot for that was amazing and we’re rolling that out this summer. We also let you reserve your sunbed so you don’t have to wake up 7 a.m. to put your towel on a chair.
We have our third Casa Cook hotel opening in Crete this summer, and another two in the pipeline for a total of five by summer 2019. We want to create a hotel product in the heart of the destination.
Skift: What kinds of technologies do you plan to add or test to help with individualizing the mass-market?
Fankhauser: We’re working on new things with Thomas Cook Money. We still offer foreign exchange and we have an insurance product that not a lot of people know about, but we have to rejuvenate this business and we’re partnering now with different businesses such as financial tech companies. We’re going to be a holiday bank, which is a real disruptor in this space. We think our 22 million customer base wants this.
We’re also asking how do we use the heritage of Thomas Cook the man and how we can step up to what he started 177 years ago? We have an innovation pipeline and we test a lot. We just don’t always know which idea to go with right away. There’s always a competition for different ideas.
Skift: Europe had a great year for tourism in 2017 and regions like Western Europe bounced back that had declined in 2015 and 2016. What does that mean for Thomas Cook and treating the mass-market as individuals?
Fankhauser: We’re seeing a shift towards Egypt, Greece, and Turkey. With our partnership with Expedia and a hotel development company, our hands are full of work to really make that great. We’re still very much working on the customer experience to make it great. If we’re not disrupted by multiple terror attacks, we for sure will have good demand again in 2018.