Belfast Telegraph

Bad weather means a sunny outlook for some

By Margaret Canning

Not many of us can claim to have benefited from this year's dismal summer weather (and the year before, and the year before that).

It's difficult not to escape the feeling of being cheated out of at least one full week of good weather in July or August.

But one former underdog of British industry had managed to bring something positive out of the gloom.

Travel agent Thomas Cook has experienced a lift in sales as a result of gloomy Brits prompted to reach for sunnier climes abroad and escape the unending rain at home.

Not so long ago a crisis in its popularity prompted it to fall back on its banks for a £200m cash injection.

But it would seem the weather has helped it turn the corner, with its summer programme now 88% sold after a quiet May and June.

There is plenty of interest in its specialist and independent holidays though sales of Olympic and Paralympic packages have been disappointing.

New broom chief executive Harriet Green, who was appointed to lead a turnaround, must be one of the few people who is glad to see the bad weather.

She has also taken a fearless approach to cutting costs - selling some of its aircraft, a couple of Spanish hotels and its Indian business.

Underperforming hotels have also been stripped away.

Looking ahead, the company has said booking trends are 'encouraging' and that its turnaround plan is delivering.

A spot of rain and accompanying disappointment may have been something which the original Thomas Cook would have appreciated, as his business was quite staid in its origins. He was a Baptist preacher in the 1800s who believed his cheap railway trips would help the working classes drink less and learn more about the world around them.

The first such wholesome outing took place in 1841 and transported passengers from Leicester to Loughborough for a temperance meeting.

Fourteen years later, he became alive to the possibilities of going further away and was offering holidays to the pleasure spots of Europe, with round the world tours following in the 1870s. His first high street shop opened in 1865, and the upper floor was used as a Temperance Boarding House.

Cook was a practical man who understood the pitfalls of carrying large amounts of foreign currency. In their place, he invented the circular note, which became the travellers' cheque - though that's one of his legacies which has definitely waned, thanks to credit cards.

Frank and Ernest Cook sold their grandfather's company in 1928 to a French travel business, ending the family's association with the business.

Yet Thomas Cook is sure to approve of the latest turnaround in the company he founded.

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