A 177-year-old tour operator like Thomas Cook Group may enjoy depth of experience and sizable market share, but it’s difficult for this “dinosaur of travel” to evolve, as CEO Peter Fankhauser referred to his company at Skift Forum Europe in April.

“We have to reinvent what we are, but you can’t turn an elephant around and make a butterfly,” said Fankhauser.

A crucial part of the company’s evolution involves keeping up with what travelers really want from a packaged tour in an age of heightened personalization, attempts at living like a local, and getting off the beaten path.

“A package tour operator is not what it was five years ago — it has nothing to do with seven and fourteen days, everybody on the same track,” said Fankhauser. Thomas Cook Group has focused recently on the idea of individualized mass tourism, which marries elements of personalization with the ease and familiarity of a packaged tour.

This long-term effort includes allowing customers to pre-book specific rooms, recognizing that customers don’t want to be viewed as one big hulking mass, and having travelers of different nationalities mix. That last one might seem awfully arcane, but then again, this company is just shy of two centuries old.

Fankhauser said it was an old myth that travelers of one nationality don’t want to fraternize with travelers of other nationalities. The company surveyed 18,000 customers and only 10 percent said they wanted to export their home culture into their vacation.

Thomas Cook Group is also slowly emerging from the analog age, having cut its number of brick-and-mortar shops from 2,000 to 1,000 in order to focus on the web.

Being a legacy player certainly has its advantages, especially in terms of brand recognition, but change does come more slowly than with an agile young startup.

You can watch the entire interview above, or consider reading more coverage of Skift Forum Europe.

At Skift Forum Europe in Berlin, Europe’s travel leaders gathered for a day of inspiration, information, and conversation.

Our inaugural Skift Tech Forum takes place Tuesday in Silicon Valley. Visit our Forum site for details.

Photo Credit: Thomas Cook Group CEO Peter Fankhauser spoke at Skift Forum Europe in April 2018 about the evolution of his 177-year-old company. Skift