Founded by Baptist preacher Thomas Cook, he believed excursions on newly-built railways would offer working class people a diversion from drinking which he saw as at the root of Victorian social ills.
Little did he realise this social mission – those travelling were so-called “temperance supporters”– would become into one of the world’s biggest travel companies, and a bellwether of the high street, until its financial collapse.
Like other retail giants which have gone out of business, the reasons for Thomas Cook’s demise are multi-faceted. The firm was clearly not helped by the internet revolution as the costs of high street stores became unsustainable; its slow response to the evolving demands and preferences of holiday-makers; three failed chief executives who were paid a combined total of £30m since 2007 and a sharp decline in the value of the pound against the euro.
Although it will be up to a future inquiry to establish if there were any failings in corporate governance, this, for now, is of secondary importance to the needs of 150,000 customers whose travels plans have been disrupted to varying degrees. They include families, and groups, who had spent years saving for the holiday of a lifetime.
Yet it is ironic that they’re being helped, and supported in many cases, by Thomas Cook holiday reps who are among 16,000 staff to have lost their jobs. The only saving grace is that Department for Transport contingency plans do appear more advanced than they were when the Monarch airline went out of business – but that will be scant consolation to all those holiday-makers, and staff, now enduring a living nightmare through no fault of their own.