Thomas Cook started organising leisure trips in the summer of 1841 when its founder, who gave his name to the company, organised a successful one-day rail excursion at a shilling a head from Leicester to Loughborough. During the next three summers Mr Cook arranged a succession of trips, taking passengers to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham. Four years later, he organised his first trip abroad, taking a group from Leicester to Calais. This was followed in the 1860s by trips to Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and America.
In partnership with his son, John Mason Cook, he opened an office in Fleet Street in 1865. In accordance with his beliefs, Mr Cook senior and his wife also ran a small temperance hotel above the office. The firm’s growing importance was demonstrated in 1884, when it transported a relief force to rescue General Gordon, from Khartoum, in Sudan.
In 1869, he hired two steamers and conducted his first party up the Nile. The climax of his career, however, came in September 1872 when, at the age of 63, he departed from Leicester on a tour of the world that would keep him away from home for almost eight months. It had long been his ambition to travel “to Egypt via China”, but such a trip only became practicable at the end of 1869 following the opening of the Suez Canal and the completion of a rail network linking the east and west coasts of America.
The company was incorporated as Thos Cook & Son Ltd in 1924, and in 1926 the headquarters moved from Ludgate Circus to Berkeley Street, Mayfair, a once aristocratic area which was now the centre of London society. Then, in 1928, Thomas Cook’s surviving grandsons, Frank and Ernest, unexpectedly sold the business to the Belgian Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens, operators of most of Europe’s luxury sleeping cars, including the Orient Express.
Thomas Cook was nationalised shortly after the Second World War when it became part of the state-owned British Railways. It benefited from a holiday boom after the conflict, which saw one million Britons travelling abroad by 1950.
In 1965, Thomas Cook’s profits exceeded £1m for the first time, but it was facing stiff competition from younger rivals.
It was privatised in the 1970s with Midland Bank becoming its sole owner in 1977. Thomas Cook managed to survive the recession of the 1970s – a recession that witnessed the collapse of several travel firms – and enhanced its reputation for providing excellent service by launching a Money Back Guarantee scheme in 1974. It was sold by Midland in 1992 to a German bank and charter airline.
C&N Touristic AG, one of Germany’s largest travel groups, became the sole owner of Thomas Cook in 2001 and a new chapter in the company’s history began. Within a matter of months, C&N Touristic AG had changed its name to Thomas Cook AG and launched a new logo and brand identity. In the UK, Thomas Cook introduced its new three-tier mass-market brand strategy – Thomas Cook, JMC and Sunset – and the newly-branded Thomas Cook Airlines was launched in March 2003.
Thomas Cook, one of the world’s biggest leisure travel groups, with sales of £7.8 billion, 19 million annual customers and 22,000 employees, ceased trading in September 2019.
Thomas Cook’s name and website purchased in an £11million pound deal. The company is set to make a comeback as an online travel operator.