A job fair for those who worked in the airline’s supply chain was held at Manchester Airport, which included Airlines British Airways, TUI and Jet2.com as well as travel brands include Hilton and Mercure Hotels.
A task force in Greater Manchester was also set up in the wake of the collapse.
For Manchester travel firms, the news of the collapse was “tragic”, says Bill Allen, chief supply officer at Cheadle-headquartered On The Beach.
“Travel is a very small community with lots of specialists who end up working for lots of different companies, so we all know lots of people who worked for Thomas Cook,” Mr Allen explains.
On The Beach hosted an internal jobs fair for Thomas Cook staff in its contact centre in Cheadle.
“We had a number of Thomas Cook staff come in who were employed largely at the airport.”
“There’s lots of people with huge travel experience so I believe we’re in the process of making a number of offers to those people and will continue to do so.”
“You want to help as many people as possible”
Similarly, after Travel Counsellors helped all their own customers, Mr Byrne says the goal was to help as many other people as possible, including people that had booked a holiday with Thomas Cook directly and the staff employed by them.
He says: “Because you’ve got so many people affected…once you’ve looked after your own customers with bookings, you want to help as many people as possible because that’s the right thing to do.”
Mr Byrne says Travel Counsellors held a series of career advisory workshops and offered advice to former Thomas Cook employees.
“On the Monday following the collapse we had open doors at our office, so we had staff in from the Trafford Centre branch, from Bury, to have somewhere to stay and have a chat.”
Mr Byrne says the firm also had to be aware of what suppliers were heavily reliant on Thomas Cook.
“There is a risk of a knock-on effect for people in their supply network, so you have to be cognisant to that, so what other businesses does it place at risk because you don’t want to see anyone else in jeopardy.”
Travel Counsellors has taken on “several” ex-Thomas Cook employees, as well as helping them find work with other companies.
Mr Bryne says there is a lot of empathy for people who lost their jobs “almost instantaneously” in both the travel industry and wider Greater Manchester community.
“It was very much about the people”
This empathy is further demonstrated by Manchester-based business travel company Clarity, which has taken on half of a Thomas Cook specialist division providing team transport for elite sports clubs.
Pat McDonagh, CEO of Clarity, says he felt “disappointed” for those employed at Thomas Cook Sport, as they worked very closely together on shared accounts.
He says: “We had a natural concern for those people because of long-held relationships, people we care about and a business we work with.
“Naturally we also had a concern for our business because if one half of the servicing element falls away, then it puts the other half in jeopardy.”
In less than 48 hours of the collapse, 17 former Thomas Cook Sport staff were re-employed by Clarity in its newly-created Clarity Sport division.
Mr McDonagh says the decision to take on the staff was “a very quick and easy” one.
“We know the guys are professionals at the absolute top of their game…and we knew if we employed the team we would very quickly be able to sign the accounts as Clarity accounts.
“The only thing that would make the clubs want to do business with us was having the Thomas Cook team there. It was very much about the people, their expertise and their relationships.”
Mr Donagh says Clarity had its eye on the Thomas Cook Sport team prior to its collapse.
He said: “We were potentially considering attempting to acquire the sports business from Thomas Cook and that might have been possible down the line.
“It was very successful business in its own right, so it wasn’t necessarily going to be easy to do but clearly when the opportunity arose to make something good out of a bad situation, we made sure we moved very quickly.”
The sport’s arm of Thomas Cook was a part of the former travel empire that was in growth, Clarity said.
“It was an incredibly frenetic time ”
Rob Slawson, former head of Thomas Cook Sport, who now heads up the new Clarity Sports division, says the process of being made redundant at Thomas Cook was “brutal”.
“We were all given our redundancy forms and effectively kicked out of the office in pretty quick time, so it was a fairly brutal process…it was a pretty swift and painful experience.”
Yet, the sports division at Clarity was soon up and running.
McDonagh says it was “all hands on deck” in getting employment offers out, contracts signed and equipment set up for new members of staff.
He said: “From a business perspective it was an incredibly frenetic time, and we deployed a lot of resources to help make that happen, while doing everything we could to make the guys feel welcome.”
The transition was “seamless”, Mr Slawson says.
“From being kicked out of one office on a Monday morning to up and running with normal function in 24 to 48 hours is testament to the guys at Clarity and what they’ve built here.”
Mr McDonagh says the new sports division has opened up several avenues for Clarity to explore in the future.
“Potentially in the future, moving sports teams and equipment is not dissimilar to moving stage and screen as well, so imaging big production efforts like various huge budget film and TV productions, so there’s a huge potential to growing areas like that.”
“The travel market is still buoyant”
Mr McDonagh says there is a difference between providing travel packages for businesses and providing travel packages for consumers.
He said: “Business travel doesn’t carry some of the risks and legacy challenges retail travel does but there’s still a move towards online booking.
“We think business travel is incredibly relevant, we think it’s growing as an industry, we think more and more businesses are looking to manage their travel no matter what size they are.”
However, he “strongly believes” there is still a place in the market for high street retail agents, with Hays Group “showing their faith in it quite emphatically over the last week or so”.
Mr Byrne says the collapse of Thomas Cook isn’t a reflection of the travel industry.
He says: “Thomas Cook failed for reasons unique to them.
“The travel market is still buoyant, people are still travelling, people are still booking holidays, both package and tailor-made holidays.”
He adds: “First and foremost, you’ve got to be really good at whatever business you are in and Thomas cook for a long time were in a period of changing their business model to adapt to a different world and unfortunately they weren’t able to change quickly enough or they didn’t have the finances available to change quickly.”
While the collapse of Thomas Cook was an “unprecedented event” that has a big impact, On The Beach’s business model is “very different to that of Thomas Cook”, says Mr Allen.
“We are still a successful business and will continue to be a successful business.”
However, Mr Allen said the collapse will have a bigger impact on smaller businesses without the scale and cash flow to refund customers before they recovering the costs from Thomas Cook.
“If you’re a small business heavily reliant on a single destination and Thomas Cook were the main supplier, it could really knock you and there will inevitably be collateral damage where smaller tour operators will suffer and whether a number of them will survive is a big question mark.”
In the short term, Mr Allen says flight supply shortage, which will likely continue through the winter.
However, “by the time we get to next summer other airlines would have put more capacity into the market and therefore the supply will balance the demand again” .
“We saw that classically with the Monarch collapse two years ago so we’re anticipating a similar scenario.”
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