Travelling to the brink of a crisis? Thomas Cook: crisis management by apology

How many companies think they can ignore reputation risks, fail to understand the basic principles of horizon scanning and have no idea how to manage a corporate crisis? Well it seems Thomas Cook can count themselves amongst the few that do.


thomascook crisisAs CEO Peter Fankhauser finally issues an apology on behalf of Thomas Cook for the deaths of two children on holiday in Corfu in 2006, questions must be asked how an organisation whose business is dependent on quality of service, customer care and reputation can fail to react in a professional manner.

First and foremost is the tragedy of the accident and the deaths of the children; as a parent the pain and anguish of even thinking about this is terrible. And it’s impossible to believe that as individuals the people working within Thomas Cook do not share similar feelings of sympathy for the family.

This has dragged on for years and the coroner’s hearings are hardly a surprise, so why is it that a company can be so ill prepared?  Is this a reflection of the low level of importance it places on risk management or over confidence in the authority of lawyers?


Crises can normally be characterised by fast moving, fast changing business environments, which are unexpected and have complex issues that extend beyond the knowledge and experience of the organisation. This is definitely not the case in this situation.

A second type of crisis is the slow moving, gradual change that builds up to a point of inflection where the threat to the well being of the company is so obvious it cannot be missed. In many regards Thomas Cook could argue this is the case that fits their circumstances.

BUT they have accelerated towards the crash knowing full well it was there, ignored all the warning signs and then compounded the situation by a slow and laborious response. This is not a creeping crisis; it is a train crash waiting to happen.


Crisis management by apology is a difficult response to get right; it is much more than saying sorry and far more costly than doing the right things at the right time.  Their reputation will take a significant hit and this will translate in to complex business impacts and, for a company that struggled to horizon scan the impacts of this tragedy, this complex mosaic of threats and impacts may well be beyond their capability.

As they revisit their crisis management skills and hopefully learn the lessons that lead to a better company, I leave you with a comment from their web site which tells us about the Thomas Cook vision, a statement taken on the afternoon the apology was issued, an apology that has been buried so far down the site I could not even find it!

“We are very proud to serve the 23 million customers who chose to travel with us each year and, are focused on transforming our business so that we can serve even more customers in ways that deliver better their holiday dreams.” 


About the author /