Cruise giant Thomas Cook's cruise success all down to a teetotal preacher
Sep 25 2011
More than 1.7 million Brits are taking cruise holidays this year – and many of them are booking with Thomas Cook. CONRAD COX discovers how the travel giant owes its success to a teetotal preacher.
DON’T book it, Thomas Cook it! Such is the travel firm’s enduring place in holidaymaking history that the adspeak soundbite has become a commonplace catchphrase.
This year the company is celebrating its 170th anniversary with a cruise campaign offering passengers a one-stop shop for more than 30 of the world’s leading cruise lines.
But it all started with a surfeit of sin and booze.
On June 9, 1841 a 32-year old cabinet maker named Thomas Cook walked from his home in Market Harborough to the nearby town of Leicester to attend a temperance meeting.
A former Baptist preacher, Cook was a religious man who believed most Victorian social problems were related to alcohol and that the lives of working people would be greatly improved if they drank less and became better educated.
As he walked along the road to Leicester “the thought suddenly flashed across my mind as to the practicability of employing the great powers of railways and locomotion for the furtherance of this social reform”.
At the meeting, Cook suggested that a special train be engaged to carry the temperance supporters of Leicester to a meeting in Loughborough some four weeks later.
He submitted his idea to the Midland Railway Company and a train was arranged. On July 5, 1841 around 500 passengers were conveyed in open carriages the enormous distance of 12 miles and back for a shilling.
The day was a great success. More than that, Thomas Cook had arranged his first excursion.
During the next three summers he arranged a succession of trips between Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham on behalf of local temperance societies and Sunday schools.
In the summer of 1845, he organised a long haul trip to Liverpool. Not content with simply providing tickets, he also published a handbook of the journey and the holiday brochure was born.
By the end of 1850, having already visited Wales, Scotland and Ireland, Cook began to think bigger. Five years later, he escorted his first tourists to Europe.
He negotiated with innkeepers to provide rooms and meals, and launched a hotel coupon which travellers could use to pay for hotel accommodation and meals instead of using money.
Another innovation was his circular note, a forerunner of the travellers’ cheque, which enabled tourists to obtain local currency in exchange for a paper note issued by Thomas Cook.
There followed trips to North America, steamship cruises up the Nile and, in September 1872 an eight-month tour of the world.
While he was travelling round the world, his son, John Mason Cook, set about expanding the company internationally, squeezing in the relief expedition up the Nile to rescue General Gordon from Khartoum.
The company was incorporated as Thos Cook & Son Ltd in 1924, and by the 1950s had become the largest and most successful holiday company in the world.
These days Thomas Cook is the best-known name in travel, with a wide range of brands including Cruise Thomas Cook, the No 1 cruise retailer in the UK.
With a choice of more than 30 cruise lines – including all the big names from P&O to Princess and Cunard to Royal Caribbean – and thousands of exclusive offers, it’s a far cry from those early Nile cruises.
But Baptist preacher Thomas Cook would have recognised the hallmarks – value for money, unrivalled expertise and itineraries to suit every tourist’s taste.