To keep or not to keep? Such is the quandary that is facing Madhavan Menon, chairman & managing director of Thomas Cook India (TCIL), as he mulls a brand name change for the India-based company in the wake of Thomas Cook’s fall announced earlier this week.
Calling the past few days one of the “toughest” days in his career due to the association with the iconic Thomas Cook brand, Menon had to embark on a communication blitz in the immediate wake of UK-based firm’s collapse to clarify and reiterate the separate ownership of TCIL since the latter’s acquisition by Fairfax Financial Holdings in August 2012.
“It’s been some of the toughest days that I’ve faced, because obviously by association (most people) will tie us to Thomas Cook UK. It’s very unfortunate but when I look at it, I think ‘thank god we got out seven years ago’,” said Menon, speaking to TTG Asia on the sidelines of yesterday’s TTG Travel Awards in Bangkok, where Menon was in attendance to receive an award for TCIL in the category of the best travel agency in India.
Yet, the contrast between the fortunes – not to mention future – of the two Thomas Cook entities could not be more stark.
While the beleaguered Thomas Cook Group needed to service a massive 1.7 billion pound (US$2.1 billion) debt pile until its ultimate liquidation early Monday morning, TCIL is in a “financially secure” position, the company said in a statement earlier this week.
Still, Menon sees the loss of iconic brand names from the global tourism industry as “a major disaster”. He said: “Thomas Cook is a name that is 178 years old and it’s suddenly gone. And in all probability, we will be the only Thomas Cook left.”
But that’s where the astute travel business leader also sees an opportunity, especially as other Thomas Cook subsidiaries in Europe hang in balance.
While challenging the last couple of days might had been for Menon, the days ahead are unlikely to be any easier for Menon as he evaluates the options of whether to keep the Thomas Cook brand name.
“The reality is that we have heritage and pedigree behind us,” he said. “I keep telling myself, with 138 years in India the brand equity is huge. In one month’s time, or perhaps even 10 day’s time, people will stop talking about Thomas Cook and maybe there’s an opportunity. I don’t know, but I don’t want to lose out on it.”
The company, as a brand licensee, has use of the Thomas Cook name until 2024, but “a complete brand name transition plan” is already lying in wait for the past eight months, according to Menon, and that could be implemented any time a decision is made.
“So the decision we need to make today is whether to make the brand transition today, or do I wait one year to make the brand transition. I think there are a lot of factors that have to be evaluated – what’s the damage to the brand, how quickly will people forget it and move on, etc. We have to figure out all these things at the moment,” said Menon.
Whichever name that TCIL ultimately takes, Menon sees far greater importance – and opportunity – in how it “reprojects” itself from a legacy company into “an experiences company”.
He added: “Today’s travel is changing so fast with OTAs, the Oyos and Airbnbs of the world, but we believe we have a segment which is package tours and that is where we play our role. We’re in the DMC business, which is a little bit more uncertain because they depend on source markets to aggregate and give business for them, but I genuinely believe we sell experiences and don’t do anything else.”
So, for a businessman who prides himself on rational decision making, where does he stand on the Thomas Cook brand retention?
“My heart tells me hold me to hold on to the brand, but my brain tells me to research and not make a decision yet. I’ve got a market research company and brand evaluation company looking at it – this all happened in the last 48 hours,” Menon stated.
“I need data to tell me. If I get data and I make a decision, right or wrong I’ll never regret it. But if I make a decision on a hunch, I guarantee that if something goes wrong I’ll blame myself for it,” he added.
“Perhaps one or two years from now, you will still see us calling ourselves Thomas Cook India. Who knows?”