LONDON – The iconic British tour operator Thomas Cook ended 178 years of history in the sector when it went into suspension on Monday.
The travel giant was best known for offering holiday packages across numerous countries and having its own airline.
The company took its first steps in 1841 when cabinetmaker Thomas Cook founded the business in the county of Leicestershire (north-central England) hosting trips to nearby towns.
Cook, who was a Baptist pastor, found a niche in the market to offer working-class people a form of entertainment that would serve as an alternative to excessive alcohol consumption in Victorian Britain.
The former cabinetmaker took advantage of the emerging railway networks in the United Kingdom to offer a 19-kilometer route from the city of Leicester (north-central English) to the town of Loughborough, at a cost of one shilling per person (equivalent to about $3.6).
He advertised the railway trip on posters that would hang on street walls under the headline “Public News.”
The short trips were so successful that Cook repeated them for several summers in a row, which paved the way to include other British towns.
In 1855 Cook set out to cross the English Channel to visit Paris, a visit that proved a turning point for the travel company.
New tours were created to include other European destinations, and routes to the United States, Asia and the Middle East followed shortly after.
A booming middle class fueled the company’s expansion as travel became a desirable commodity in the United Kingdom.
John Mason Cook, Cook’s son, took over the company after the death of his father in 1892, and the business remained a family one well into the early 20th century.
In the late 1920s, the founder’s grandsons sold the business to the Belgian owners of the Orient Express but with the outbreak of World War II, it was nationalized by the British Government.
In the postwar period, the company bounced back by offering vacation packages abroad, but as competition increased it was privatized in the 1970s.
In 1992 the travel operator was bought by the German Westdeutsche Landesbank and in 1999 the Thomas Cook airline was established.
In 2001, it was transferred to another German company, C&N Touristic AG, and stores were opened for the sale of tourist packages as the business was expanded abroad.
However, the 21st century has proven to be Thomas Cook’s most challenging time.
The digital revolution brought with it a radical transformation in how consumers booked holidays and airline tickets as customers increasingly made their purchases online and targeted budget airlines.
In June 2007, a merger with the My Travel group paved the way for the Thomas Cook group and began trading on the London and Frankfurt stock exchanges.
In recent years, accumulated debt, issues as a result of currency fluctuations, natural disasters such as hurricanes, and the uncertainty generated by Brexit have mounted resulting in many holiday goers forgoing trips abroad.
Until its collapse, Thomas Cook sold tour packages to 19 million people globally in more than 15 countries across 560 branches.