These are undoubtedly hard times in which to sell the dream of travel; if the dreaded B word were not enough to dissuade the core market from the sell that Spain trumps Scarborough (seriously has anyone seen the government’s TV ad for the post B landscape – you might want to check your travel documents and insurance arrangements. Really?) then there is the environmental concern that the train, local holidays and staying put might be best, or the more mundane point that global businesses buy and sell fuel in dollars, employment, property, leasing and fixed costs seem only to rise, and there is of course the eternal pressure to deliver dividends and remunerate the executives for the sterling work that they have been doing, and that no one else can seemingly do for less incentive.
There are many lurid headlines in the press (“Stranded”) to the obvious concern of the Civil Aviation Authority, tasked with rolling out the new repatriation airbridge but, with the Monarch collapse still reasonably fresh in the mind, how was a 178 year old company allowed (is that the right word? Was it pushed, or did it not in fact jump into the abyss on 23 September 2019 by seeking the immediate relief of compulsory liquidation?) to collapse in the way that it did, only a few short months after key parts of the group posted their annual accounts? Yes, in June, the audited accounts to 30 September 2018 in which the directors of Thomas Cook Group UK Limited were able to say that despite “key performance indicators” set out in the May 2019 audited (yes, audited!) accounts of the parent Thomas Cook Group plc, the directors had “a reasonable expectation that the Company has adequate resources to continue in operational existence for the foreseeable future”. Comforting that the “Directors have received confirmation that Thomas Cook Group plc intends to support the Company for at least one year after the financial statements are signed.”
Only a few short months later, the fig leaf of parental support was torn away by the harsh wind of a group debt pile reportedly in the GBP 1.7 billion area, strong headwinds from the market and little apparent banking appetite for more risk. The irony of banks rescuing themselves not so long ago to the tune of untold billions in public money reportedly unable to find a paltry £200 million of additional financing is not lost on the very public waiting patiently on the tarmac for re-purposed flights home.
There is a significant distance yet to travel, at least in relation to the recovery and investigation phase of the late Thomas Cook’s trading life. Whether that road involves yet further criticism for a big four auditor by the investigations team of another big four practice remains to be seen but, looking back already to Carillion (and does anyone remember Farepak?) consumers, employees and suppliers will need to buckle in.