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1972: Thomas Cook packaged and sold

The state-owned travel firm Thomas Cook & Son has been sold to a consortium of private businesses headed by the Midland Bank.

The consortium paid 22.5m for the firm - far higher than expected.

It was thought Thomas Cook would be lucky to fetch 20m after depressed results from the travel industry as a whole and a sharp fall in Thomas Cook's profits over the last few years.


The consortium said it was "delighted" with the result. Managers at Cook's have also welcomed the decision as "a tremendous boost" - although trades unions continue to oppose the takeover.

The sale was approved by John Peyton, Minister for the Transport Industries, and announced to the House of Commons in a statement.

The consortium of three companies - Midland Bank, Trust Houses Forte, and the Automobile Association - were told of the decision just 15 minutes before MPs.

Travel revolution

Thomas Cook is widely credited with starting the foreign travel revolution. It was founded in 1841 by the Baptist cabinet maker and strict teetotaller whose name it bears.

His idea for a new company began when he arranged a train excursion for temperance campaigners from Leicester to Loughborough.

Thomas Cook became state-owned in 1948. At the time, it was the biggest and best-known travel agency in the world, and its shops dominated the high street.

In the early 1950s, when only one in 100 Britons had ever been abroad, the company showed information films in town halls encouraging holidaymakers to try exotic places like Spain, Italy and Switzerland.

Costly decision

The travel craze caught on, and within 10 years demand had rocketed. But when Thomas Cook's rivals started selling mass travel that anyone could afford - the so-called package holiday - Thomas Cook did not get involved.

The decision was to cost them dear, and the company's current difficulties are blamed on its failure to keep up as the British holiday was transformed.

Over the next year, the consortium plans to take a close look at the Thomas Cook operation.

Although no immediate changes are planned, the consortium is meeting managers early next week for initial talks on the new regime.

In Context
Thomas Cook continued to lose money for several years after the takeover, and by 1975 it had to report the biggest loss in its history.

A review of the company found it crippled by old-fashioned civil service methods and an archaic accounting system.

After some radical reorganisation, Thomas Cook moved away from tour operating, and into the travellers' cheque business. Within a year, the company was no longer making a loss.

Thomas Cook celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1991, and a year later was sold to the German bank, West LB, and the charter airline, LTU Group.

During the next ten years, Cook's acquired a charter airline and some small package companies, and changed hands again. It is now owned by the German tourism company, C&N Touristic AG.

Today, Thomas Cook AG is the third largest travel group in the world.

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