Growing Your Business

How Thomas Cook built his reputation in the travel industry

April 7, 2016


Travel industry pioneer Thomas Cook started his career as a preacher, though after he married, he could no longer afford this path and so made a business as a wood turner, whilst remaining a strict Baptist.

His career in travel began in 1841, when he approached the secretary of the Midland Railway Company proposing a special train to carry a group of church supporters from Leicester to a meeting in Loughborough. This was believed this was the first advertised ‘trip’ of its kind.

He made travel accessible for the working class

On 5th July, the train carried 500 passengers the distance of 12 miles and back for just a shilling, which included food for the journey! The trip was a huge success, and more train journeys were planned, so long as Cook could provide the passengers. Yet his ambitions were bigger and he wanted to develop this idea further.

Starting in midland cities, Cook arranged several trips between Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham – which allowed thousands of people to experience rail travel for the first time.

He built a reputation for obtaining cheap rates for large parties

In the summer of 1845, Cook organised a trip to Liverpool – his most ambitious project to date. Not only did he dedicate himself to providing low priced tickets for groups, but he also created a handbook for the journey – recognised as the first ever holiday brochure.

Trips to Wales, Scotland and Ireland followed this success, with Cook giving considerable amounts of his profits away to help the poor.

His success led him to extend worldwide to Europe, the US and various other locations.

He pursued an international strategy, before international strategy was a thing

Cook’s first opportunity to venture internationally was at the 1855 International Exhibition in Paris. At first he attempted to persuade companies who operating on the Channel to provide him with passenger tickets, but they refused to work with him. Undeterred, Cook devised a route between Harwich and Antwerp, opening up the ‘circular tour’ (to include Brussels, Cologne, The Rhine, Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg and Paris). It was this route that enabled him to accompany his first group of tourists to Europe.

Cook continued to provide trips to various European countries. He found some of his customers expecting better accommodation so he arranged deals with hotels in Italy for his middle class customers, which allowed them to purchase coupons and stay the night.

He wanted to help people to see the world

Cook wasn’t satisfied with Europe, his vision was to make the world available to his passengers. In 1865 he set up a system of tours covering 4,000 miles of railways in North America. Later, he hired steam boats, to take his first party to Egypt and the Holy Land.

His wider vision was achieved in 1872, when he departed from Leicester on a tour of the world! This trip was to ‘Egypt via China’ and took over 200 days. It included a steamship across the Atlantic, a stage coach from the east to west coast of America, a paddle steamer to Japan and an overland journey across China to India.

Thomas Cook hasn’t been high on the tourist praise list in recent years – though next time you’re about to jet off on holiday, perhaps give a small, grateful thought for their founder and namesake, who paved the way for your next adventure…

As a challenger law firm, we have an enormous amount of respect for other challengers, innovators and those people who are brave enough to take industries forward. In this series, we will celebrate these people and their achievements.

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