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Thomas Cook collapse shouldn't stop us using professionals


By Nicky Marr


Thomas Cook went out of business after 178 years, leaving 150,000 UK travellers stranded.
Thomas Cook went out of business after 178 years, leaving 150,000 UK travellers stranded.

Some things are better left to the professionals. Just because we are able to do something for ourselves, doesn’t always mean that we should.

I am technically capable of making my own mayonnaise; I have the ingredients, the food processor and the recipe. But when there’s a perfectly delicious alternative that I can buy in the shops and keep in the fridge for whenever I fancy a sandwich, why would I ever bother?

The same principle applies to altering my clothes or washing my windows. Why would I risk ruining a jacket when there’s a tailor around the corner who is skilled at sewing? Or scale a rickety ladder when my window cleaner has a telescopic hose-and-brush contraption that gets my upstairs windows clean from ground level?

You’re probably with me so far, but when it comes to booking holidays, we seem to have fallen out of love with using professionals.

It’s really easy to bypass the travel agent and book our own flights and hotels – the internet is there in our pockets, the flights seem cheap enough, and there’s the choice of every hotel and Airbnb in Bucharest, Barcelona or at the beach.

When it all goes well, it’s tempting to book independently again next time, and the time after that too. But if a hotel is double-booked or an airline lets us down, then what? Having booked on our own, we’d have to sort it out on our own.

We might have travel insurance or be covered if we’d paid by credit card, but the onus would be on us to sort it all out ourselves and claim our money back; wasted time and untold stress. If we’d booked through a travel agent it would have been their job to resolve any issues.

This week, though, it was the travel agent who went under. The reasons for the demise of Thomas Cook after 178 years in business are complex, and it will be months before the full story emerges, if at all. Brexit is said (by the company themselves this summer) to have been a factor, but the rise in low-cost airlines and a culture of us booking holidays online have also played a major part.

On Monday around 22,000 Thomas Cook employees lost their jobs, including those in high street branches in Elgin, Inverness and Buckie. The repatriation of 150,000 UK holidaymakers is under way, the largest repatriation exercise ever carried out during peacetime.

Holidaymakers have been stressed and inconvenienced. They might be flown home to a different airport from the one they flew from, a day or two either side of their planned return. People who have booked holidays hoping to leave in the coming weeks and months have had their holidays cancelled. They might not receive a refund in time to pay for an alternative.

But everything will eventually come good, because they booked with a professional. Those professionals were backed by the ATOL fund, so the Civil Aviation Authority is stepping in to sort out this almighty logistical mess. Everyone who is currently abroad will be brought back home, and everyone who booked a holiday package and is yet to travel will eventually get their money back.

The travel industry is reeling at this news. The government is being asked why, for the sake of a ‘missing’ £200 million, Thomas Cook couldn’t have been propped up. RBS, itself saved by the government from collapse, was one of the banks that refused to extend lending to allow the company to try and trade its way out of difficulty.

But we are where we are. Thomas Cook is gone.

The temptation might be for us to avoid travel agents in future, in case they all go the same way as Thomas Cook; they’re all subject to similar pressures. Why take the risk with another agent, when we have the whole internet and unlimited choice right here in our pockets?

It’s sorely tempting. But it’s wise to remember that booking independently leaves us without the back-stop of ATOL cover.

You might not imagine that mayonnaise, clothes alterations, window-cleaning and holidays have much in common, but there you have it. It all comes back to professionals.

I’m sorry for those whose holidays have been disrupted, and desperately sorry for Thomas Cook staff who have lost their livelihoods. But don’t let this week’s bad news put you off travel agents. Tell them what you’ve always dreamed of for your next holiday and let them do the legwork. Then relax. There must still be a few quid in the CAA’s ATOL policy if it all goes wrong again…



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