Thomas Cook disappeared in September after 178 years in September but easyJey and Liverpool Airport are among those investing into the package holiday business. Tony McDonough reports
When Thomas Cook collapsed into liquidation in September after selling package holidays for 178 years, many people were quick to assert that the era of the package holiday was over.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary was typically bullish on the subject, insisting the package holiday “screwed” and the tour operator model “dead”. So has the online revolution of baking cheap flights and hotels directly really killed the package trip?
Not according to a number of the travel industry’s biggest names, including Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet and a major rival for Ryanair at Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
The carrier, which operates more than 30 routes out of Liverpool, launched its own package holiday business – easyJet Holidays – in the wake of Thomas Cook’s collapse and Mr Lundgren said of Mr O’Leary’s comments: “He’s wrong. Demonstrably you can see that this market is growing. And also there are a number of companies that do very well.”
Television viewers will have seen evidence of easyJet’s commitment to its latest venture in the shape of expensively produced advertisements. And, in an interview with the This Is Money website, Mr Lundgren explained the rationale for this foray into the package business, describing it as “low-hanging fruit”.
“It’s tremendously sad to see what’s happened to that company (Thomas Cook), he said. “But having said that, of course, the timing of our launch is not bad from that point of view. There is a need for an additional player in the market – both from customers looking for choices when they book their holidays, but also hoteliers.
“There were a lot of hoteliers who depended on Thomas Cook for business. The package market in Europe is growing. It consists of companies that are very successful and others who are struggling for various reasons. But the model in itself is an outstanding proposition.”
In the immediate aftermath of Thomas Cook’s demise, its main rival Tui acted quickly. The German holiday giant added an extra 2m extra seats on flights for summer 2020 and 580,000 for short- and long-haul journeys over this winter.
The package holiday business is alive and kicking here in the Liverpool city region, too, it seems. In August, just before the Thomas Cook collapse, Liverpool John Lennon Airport teamed up with Merseyside travel agency Myriad Travel, to launch Liverpool Airport Holidays.
Its aim is to capitalise on the 70-plus destinations from the airport by offering package holidays. It has a dedicated page on the airport website and also be promoted across the airport’s social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and its WhatsApp account.
Paul Winfield, director of aviation development for LJLA, said at the time of the launch: “Liverpool Airport Holidays has been introduced to give the region’s holidaymakers an easy way to access some fantastic package holidays,
“This is the start of the Liverpool Airport Holidays product, with further exciting developments planned as we continue to increase our range of airlines and destinations.”
Travel agency chain Hays Travel, which operates a number of outlets across Merseyside, also seized the opportunity to create a positive from the disappearance of Thomas Cook. In October it announced it was taking on 553 former Thomas Cook stores in a huge step-up in its growth story.
Husband and wife team John and Irene Hays, who run hays from its Sunderland headquarters, are in no doubt they have made a shrewd investment. Irene Hays said: “All of the behaviour that we initially saw in terms of the public being supportive of us opening the shops has continued. Bearing in mind the time of year and that not all shops have been fully staffed, we have had a very good November and early December.”