Thomas Cook is one of the world’s most well-known names in travel, but in May they faced a mass consumer backlash which threatens the very core of the company after they refused to apologise for the deaths of two children on one if its holidays.
Bobby and Christi Shepherd, aged 6 and 7, died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in 2006 with their father and stepmother. An inquest found that the children had been ‘unlawfully killed’ when they were overcome by fumes because of a faulty boiler at the hotel in which they were staying.
A jury decided Thomas Cook – the company that the family bought the holiday from – had ‘breached its duty of care’ and it has since emerged that the firm had not even apologised to the parents of the victims since the tragic accident took place. As a result, outrage over the deaths has mounted on social media.
A subsequent campaign to boycott the company was launched online after unbelievably, it was also revealed that the travel agency had received £3million in compensation from the owner of the hotel following the children’s deaths, while the parents only received £350,000 each.
Consumers were calling for holidaymakers to choose alternative holiday brands and the ‘Boycott Thomas Cook’ Facebook page now has over 10,000 likes. In an effort to quell the anger felt by many, Thomas Cook said it would donate £1.5m – the damages it received from the insurers – to the children’s charity Unicef. However, this move is being dubbed as a reactive ploy and was met with cynicism because they only did this after the truth was revealed.
We are deeply saddened to hear about this story and we can’t begin to imagine the upset the family is going through. There are many lessons we can learn here with regards to social media and how a company should act when confronted with a mistake of this magnitude. Mr Fankhauser, current CEO of Thomas Cook, has come out and said that he’d personally like to get in touch with the family and apologise personally, but is this only because he know of the damaging affects this is having on the company’s reputation?
Thomas Cook admitted to holding on to the compensation money when they should have donated it immediately, which in many people’s eyes is unforgiveable. It’s because of how poorly the firm have dealt with the situation and how this has played out in the media, that the world is aware of the huge error the tour operator made and their subsequent unapologetic behaviour.
Thomas Cook is renowned for its family friendly holidays, which is why this story is deeply concerning. The company could lose much of its credibility and the trust of many of its customers as a result of the huge weight of public disgust, especially on social media.
The value you place on a holiday amounts to more than the actual cost of it. The fact that you effectively put your trust in a travel company of this size and reputation to make your holiday dreams come true means that tour operators have to show they care, engage and respond regularly. When something goes wrong, you expect them to be there too.
A big problem the company now faces is the ever-increasing disconnection they have with consumers. Although they have said bookings are unaffected by this incident, at its half-year results, they reported an underlying loss of £173m from £187m a year earlier. Revenues fell to £2.7bn from £3bn as well as shares falling by 3%.
Will we forgive and forget? It depends on what Thomas Cook does now and whether they can act sensitively and show a human side in the face of adversity. But if the company acts moving forward as they have done in the past, you can expect its market share to significantly decrease as the Boycott Thomas Cook campaign gains further momentum.