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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Thomas Cook’s Grounding

The recent grounding of Thomas Cook flights marks the end of the oldest and greatest brand in the travel industry. This company pioneered affordable holidays for the mass market.

While nowadays such holidays are (often unfairly) associated with lager-louts, they were originally designed to promote temperance – an unlikely start for a company that for almost 180 years became synonymous with leisure travel.

As the average lifespan of companies is in sharp decline, it is helpful to consider the foundations of a company that grew to a global travel group with a turnover of £9bn/year, around 20m customers, and 22,000 employees. What clues to company longevity can be found in the values of its devout Christian founder, Thomas Cook?

Foremost amongst these was his social vision. Having worked as a child for two alcoholic employers, Thomas came to regard excessive alcohol consumption as a social evil. This compelled him to provide a positive alternative to the distraction and escape of drink.

His alternative was exciting group travel that would increase friendship, broaden the mind, and lift the spirit. It may not sound exciting today but his first such excursion was a train trip from Leicester to Loughborough. It proved a resounding success and more extensive tours followed, all designed for those unable to afford any form of transport.

It was only after Thomas was confronted with the need to provide for his young family that he began to run such tours on a commercial basis, extending them to Europe, the Middle East, the USA, and eventually around the world. By travelling with his passengers, he aimed to be directly accountable to them, and attentive to their needs.

The declared aim of Thomas’ tours was to bring people closer to one another and to their creator. By making it affordable for ordinary people to enjoy the wonders of nature and culture, he sought to make ‘God’s earth with all its fullness and beauty’ accessible to all. His efforts were recognized by Prime Minister William Gladstone, who observed that ‘whole classes have, for the first time, found easy access to foreign countries, and have acquired some of that familiarity […] which breeds not contempt but kindness’.

Economic inclusion, closeness to nature, kindness to strangers, friendship, and the expansion of the soul; these are objectives more readily associated with charities. But they were foundational to this company’s longevity and success. As such they were the grounding of Thomas Cook.


Peter S Heslam
Peter is director of Transforming Business and of Faith in Business, Cambridge.


  1. Thanks Peter. There is much to be said for travel. It can expose us to different cultures, different ways of thinking and experiences we could not have at home.

    But, as we face the consequences of climate change we need to consider what impact all this will have on the planet. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, ‘Is this trip really necessary?’ or ‘Is there a more environmentally sustainable alternative?’

    For travel that cannot be avoided maybe we should consider a carbon offsetting scheme, such as Climate Stewards:


    By John Steley  -  4 Oct 2019
  2. Yes, couldn’t agree more John. The founding values of TC are laudable and good to learn, but with the climate situation, how can this matter NOT feature in a post about travel?? Besides, friendship, broadening the mind & lifting the spirit may be better gained through the slower pace & scenery enjoyed through overland travel.
    This is a relevant worthwhile petition to sign to help promote healthier travel & protect the planet:

    By Bruce Gulland  -  4 Oct 2019
  3. The earth is a living organism is is changing and has always changed, there is plenty of evidence that scare stories are frightening our children, don’t they have enough stress without such stories? There are plenty of scientists who get no publicity who are not climate fanatics. I agree that we are damaging God’s earth and we should be stoping all the damaging activities but not at the expense of a quiet and peaceful atmosphere damaged by the fanatics. Don’t we believe that IGod is in charge. When He comes again in glory he will give us a world made new!

    By Janette Gulleford  -  4 Oct 2019

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