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The oldest travel agency goes bankrupt and still the strategic tourism plans of the cities focus on operators of organized tourism. It’s time to change your perspective if you want to bring tourism development into a city or a territory.

A city or an area must be able to be attractive and win over the individuals who every day (and even now) are on the web looking to experience an unforgettable journey to tell friends about.

We need to be able to establish a relationship with each of them through an urban spirit, the spirit of the city (or in a renewed way the Genius Loci) that is able to permeate the whole city to make itself attractive.

And this can be done in many ways: some cities focus on history, some on music, others on food or sport … but each of them must be perceived as attractive and we make the tourist dream of living something unique.

But who was Thomas Cook? The story of Thomas Cook and development of ‘organized travel’ agencies.

Until recently, the small airports of the world were full of Thomas Cook planes that gave the idea of ​​the power and organization of this tour operator, which for 178 years brought English travellers, as well as many others, to discover new places.

Not even some Chinese financiers managed to save the giant and in one night thousands of travellers found themselves on vacation in various countries of the world without the possibility of being able to return home, except by buying a new flight ticket with another airline.

Thomas Cook was a printer and a Baptist preacher and it can be said that he was the inventor of the model for organized travel. It all started with the arrival of the train in his city and his desire to fight the scourge of alcoholism in the Victorian period. Thomas was convinced that this was the cause of many problems and he was an active member of the Moderation Society.

To bring 500 people to an association meeting in the nearby town of Loughborough, he decided to organize a full day of entertainment for the price of 1 shilling: train, band, afternoon tea and food.

It was 1845 and this was the first organized trip of the modern era after which thousands of travel agencies would be born which, following this model, gave birth to the tourism industry.

It can be said that Thomas Cook represented the industrial revolution of travel and it is no coincidence that he was born in England. A model that has held up until the arrival of the internet and the digital age.

But let’s go back to telling the story of Thomas Cook because his widespread organization and its end coincide with an epochal transition.

The success of that first journey born from ethical purposes led Thomas Cook to offer new voyages of discovery starting from neighbouring Scotland, for which, without the train, would not have been so close.

If the Victorian bourgeoisie could travel on the Orient Express trains and on the White Star Line ships to discover exotic destinations, the public could travel on the third class of a train, which were often open wagons and without seats where they were open to the smoke of the coal fired steam engine of the train, discovering nearby cities.

This is why Thomas Cook was a visionary and a revolutionary!

In 1851, thanks to the work of the Thomas Cook agency, 150,000 people arrived on comfortable trains from the provinces to get to know London and see Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition. Without his organization the people who came to London for the first time from the provinces would have been shocked and disoriented by the city and have been unable to visit it in a tourist sense.

But his organization was also supportive of the feminist movement because many of his clients were single women who felt protected by organized travel.

From England to Europe, North America and the Middle East the pace was easy: the logic was the same and only local organizations changed. The Nile cruises on the model of Agatha Christie and the pilgrimages to the Holy Land were no longer the prerogative of the lucky few and everybody could achieve their dreams.

And in his heart Thomas Cook was convinced that traveling would open their minds and create well-being in simple people who would then behave better in life and would not waste time on betting and drinking.

And by 1899, almost a million Brits had crossed the English Channel for a tourist trip to Europe. And Thomas Cook had invented travellers’ vouchers, hotel coupons and even printed and circulated tourist guides, and magazines up to date at the time of the train.

And perhaps this is why he was never loved by the upper middle class who saw the places they had chosen to spend their holidays invaded.

But the tourism revolution had begun and nobody could stop it. Tourists invaded every part of the world and the rich had taken refuge in a few exclusive locations, in their mega yachts and soon in space travel.

The reasons for the failure of Thomas Cook & Son

All of Thomas Cook & Son’s big business lasted until September 2019 when 22,000 workers were fired and 150,000 vacationers were stuck in distant destinations and had to be repatriated. And this despite the fact that the company had been abundantly financed by a Chinese tour operator who had become the majority shareholder.

In defence of the myopia with which we are considering the change in tourism, we must say that in 2019 the great heatwave in England had led vacationers to choose domestic destinations instead of venturing abroad. But this is not an excuse.

With the internet, and especially with social media, tourism has changed and the choices of vacationers are more and more towards the selection of a personalized trip thanks to a series of web services that have been designed precisely to suit the individual decision maker.

The now famous OTA – Online Travel Agencies have taken over from the physical agencies but above all the selections have become individual.

It is no longer the agency that proposes a destination, the tourism goals are proposed by the single traveller.

Tourism has definitely shifted from the operators of organized transport to the territorial marketing of cities and places that make themselves attractive and are able to communicate their charm to individuals.

A fascination that is much better articulated and complex than the single historical attractions or architectural glories that today can be perceived in a totally new way.

Is it better to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam or a digital exhibition where you can experience Van Gogh’s paintings and that  can be shown anywhere in the world?

We will explain this link between tourism and territorial marketing in a future article.

Low-cost tourism or high-spending tourism?

Today this is a silly question and the answer is obvious: what enjoyable and unique experiences does your town propose for tourists? What is the general atmosphere of your city?

We will also talk about this in a future article

Claudia Bettiol

IT Ingegnere, futurista e fondatrice di Discoverplaces. Consulente per lo Sviluppo Turistico dei Territori, specializzato nella sostenibilità e nella promozione culturale dei piccoli territori e delle piccole imprese. Ama i cavalli ENG Engineeer, futurist, joint founder of Energitismo and founder of Discoverplaces. Consultant for the development and promotion of the Touristic Development of Territories specialising in sustainability and in cultural promotion of small places and small enterprises. She loves horses