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‘Our Innovations Start in Greece’ – Interview with Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser

“We are trying to do alot here in Greece… We are very interested in investing in the country,” Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser said during his recent visit to Greece for the grand opening of the company’s new own-brand hotel concept named “Cook’s Club” in Hersonissos on Crete.

One of 47 Thomas Cook own-brand hotels in Greece, the new hotel in Hersonissos is the first of the company’s brand new concept “Cook’s Club”. The Cook’s Club Hersonissos follows the opening of the award-winning “Casa Cook” boutique lifestyle brand – that also launched first in Greece – on Rhodes. With the launch of two hotel brands from Greece, one thing is certain: Thomas Cook has faith in the destination.

“Whatever we are testing, we are testing it in Greece. The Casa Cook on Rhodes and Kos is a fabulous success, as the Cook’s Club on Crete will be a fabulous success also.” – Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser

According to Thomas Cook’s 2018 Holiday Report, Greece is one of Thomas Cook’s most popular destinations for British holidaymakers. Second most popular to be exact.

In this interview with GTP Headlines, Fankhauser discusses Thomas Cook’s plans for the Greek market, which include an invitation to hoteliers to partner with the group for new investments in Greece’s hospitality sector.

Photo by GTP

Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura and Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser with employees of the Cook’s Club Hersonissos.

GTP: Thomas Cook and Greece go back a long way. How would you characterize this relationship?

Peter Fankhauser: It goes really a long way back, considering that the first clients came about 149 years ago from Thomas Cook, from the UK to Greece! So, we really have a long history with Greece, which this year is our second biggest destination in the whole group, so it is really important to us. What we have seen over the last few years is a great development in the country. We grew about 34 percent in the last two years and we expect to send 3 million customers this year to Greece. This makes us the biggest holiday company to Greece out of Europe.

GTP Headlines’ pick:
“Our innovations start here in Greece. Greece is important for us.” – Peter Fankhauser

GTP: What are the summer 2018 bookings to date showing? Do we have an increase compared to last year?

Peter Fankhauser: Bookings are up this year. There is a double digit growth in Greece and as I mentioned, in the last two years we had 34 percent growth. It’s a good growth, it’s a healthy growth and this is of course supported by our innovations launched in the country. Two years ago we launched the Casa Cook on Rhodes and then last year we opened the brand on Kos. This summer, we will have the third one here on Crete – the first one for families. And with the Cooks Club in Chania, you can see that our innovations start here in Greece. Greece is important for us.

Cook's Club by Thomas Cook.

Cook’s Club by Thomas Cook.

GTP: Thomas Cook obviously has faith in the destination. What would Thomas Cook’s message be to potential investors interested in investing in the Greek tourism/hospitality sector? Do you find Greece investment-friendly?

Peter Fankhauser: Our message would be that it is a great opportunity to invest because here in Greece you have many hotels that need refurbishment. That is a great opportunity to step in as an investor and we ourselves are interested in investing in Greece. And we do invest alot in the country. But we need the government to support us as a foreign company, to ease the investment system. That is a request from our side that we have a leveled “playing field” as a foreigner to invest in Greece… We should have the same rights and the same chance to get property as a Greek investor has. It would also be nice if processes with the authorities went a bit faster when constructing hotels.

GTP Headlines’ pick:
“We have about 34 new routes this summer from different airports in Europe into Greece.” – Peter Fankhauser

GTP: What are Thomas Cook’s best selling Greek destinations?

Peter Fankhauser:Crete is our biggest destination, followed by Rhodes and Kos. We also launched the Olympus Riviera (70km stretch of coastline between the base of Mount Olympus and the Aegean Sea) on mainland Greece this summer and it is going well. We try to have a widespread offer out of Europe and we have about 34 new routes this summer from different airports in Europe into Greece. On Crete we have the new airport in Sitia, to which we launched flights from Germany. This is new this year. We try to balance the customer streams, so that not everybody is coming to the same place at the same time.

GTP: Has Thomas Cook discovered any “secret destinations” in Greece that it may be planning to introduce to its customers?

Peter Fankhauser: What is still secret in these times? Such destinations are very limited… We have considered the Peloponnese. We know that there are beautiful spots there… It’s just the matter of the infrastructure. This has to go hand in hand… We are open for every development where we see a possibility to grow our volumes and offer attractive holidays to our customers. I would never exclude anything. The infrastructure has to be good and also in those regions where we are already flying. Here I will say that airport infrastructure also must be improved.

GTP Headlines’ pick:
“In principal we are very supportive of Greece becoming a 365 day a year destination, but it has to be done step by step.” – Peter Fankhauser

Thomas Cook Fankhauser bus

 

GTP: The Greek Tourism Ministry is aiming to establish Greece as an all year round destination, open 365 days a year. As a hospitality professional, what are the main factors for Greece to reach its goal?

SENTIDO Blue Sea Beach Hotel

SENTIDO Blue Sea Beach Hotel by Thomas Cook.

Peter Fankhauser: For this to happen, we need to see some life in the destinations during the winter. If we want to extend the season we need the hotels open first of all. Second, there must be some life around the hotels, meaning that the shops and restaurants must be open. If that is not the case then we have no chance, we are not attractive enough… Alot has to be done and created to say ‘OK let’s extend the season’… But I doubt if that could happen in every part Greece…. I could imagine on Crete because it’s quite South… In principal we are very supportive of the initiative, but it has to be done step by step… Of course, the season has already extended. For example, the Casa Cook in Chania will close in November. A couple of years ago that would not be imaginable. However, in the Cooks Club we have a wonderful inside pool and a gym spa open year round… We try to help extend the season as we make an effort to attract new customer segments that do not so much rely on sun and beach. For us, the longer the season is, the more profitable the hotel is. And to really offer something as a holiday company to the destinations and the employees, then we have to make the season as long as possible.

GTP Headlines’ pick:
“Thomas Cook’s Top 5 destinations this year are Spain, Greece, Turkey, USA and Italy.” – Peter Fankhauser

SENTIDO Blue Sea Beach Hotel

SENTIDO Blue Sea Beach Hotel by Thomas Cook.

GTP: What are Thomas Cook’s Top 5 “go-to destinations” this year?

Peter Fankhauser: Spain is still number 1. That is the whole of Spain, counting Majorca, Canaries, mainland Spain, the Balearics. Number 2 is Greece and number 3 is Turkey, which is seeing a great comeback this year. USA is number 4 and number 5 is Italy. Egypt is also coming back strongly. All these destinations that were suffering in the last year they are having a revival. Tunisia as well is gradually coming back but on a lower level.
Competition is definitly growing but Greece has alot to offer, so I will not say that Greece should be concerned about the other destinations making comebacks. Greece just has to develop the destination and further improve its quality… What probably will be very advisable is for Greece to focus more on family holidays. SunWing, our family proposition, has a high attractiveness for our customers. This is something that I would say that Greece has the potential to grow. We are looking for hoteliers and investors who are willing to invest together with us… To seize the chance and try to do it together with us. That is my advise to Greece.

GTP: What shifts in guest demands have you seen in the past couple of years? What are today’s challenges in improving the guest experience?

Peter Fankhauser: What we get as a strong feedback is that the hotel now plays a more important role, even an increasing role, against the destination: what the hotel is offering, what is the attractiveness of the hotel. Somehow it all starts and begins with the hotel. This is becoming more important. Three out of ten say that they look first to the hotel and then the destination. Five years back it would have probably been totally different. We used to find the destination and then look for a hotel… The challenge is that today the travel world it is a much more informed world. With all the social media, TripAdvisor and rating platforms, the customer is extremely well informed. And you can’t hide yourself behind the bad quality or behind an average quality… At Thomas Cook we really measure every single hotel, every step of the way in the whole journey of the customer. If something has to be improved we expect the hotelier follow our advise. Otherwise, if you do not have a not good TripAdvisor rating then you are lost. What we try from our side is to boost excellence. We have an Academy of Excellence and within this academy we are advising hoteliers on many issues, including online reputation management.

GTP Headlines’ pick:
“Tourism education is the most important and it contributes to the image and the quality of the destination… That is something that I think we have a responsibility for. To train young people and then offer them a job as well.” – Peter Fankhauser

GTP: What is your biggest concern in regards to the tourism industry?

Peter Fankhauser: The challenge is to keep the environment in tact. Sustainability is something that we are increasingly caring about and that is something that I am proud about the Greek hoteliers because out of the 47 Thomas Cook own-brand hotels in Greece, 86 percent of them are in the Travelife program, which looks at the overall sustainability of the hotel within the community.
We also care much about tourism education and training. For example in Tunisia, we are working with the government and building up an academy, a training camp, for young people who want to have a job again in tourism. The concept is to support them in our own-branded hotels with the education, so that they can really deliver a good quality. And that will be our contribution to the local society.

GTP Headlines’ pick:
“I must say that Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura is one of the most effective tourism ministers Greece has had in a very long time…” – Peter Fankhauser

Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser and Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura.

Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser and Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura.

GTP: Would that be under discussion with the Greek tourism minister?

SunConnect Marina Beach Hotel

SunConnect Marina Beach Hotel

Peter Fankhauser: We are trying to do alot together with the Greek Tourism Minister, Elena Kountoura, who, I must say is one of the most effective tourism ministers Greece has had in a very long time… But yes, that is something that I am dreaming of doing in Greece. To launch an academy as well. To set up a training camp for young people and to offer them a job in our own-branded hotels. That is something that I think we have a responsibility for. To train young people and then offer them a job as well. Tourism education is the most important and it contributes to the image and the quality of the destination.

GTP: What do Thomas Cook’s future plans for Greece include? What should we expect from Thomas Cook in the near future?

Peter Fankhauser: Actually, we are inviting Greek hoteliers, investors and banks to join forces with us for new investments in Greece’s hospitality sector. We set up a fund together with a partner who is based in Switzerland – LMEY Investments – and from our side we put in two seed assets, both from Greece and LMEY put in three. This is now an asset value fund at £150m. It is a vehicle to help accelerate the growth in our own-brand hotels and resorts. We are aiming to invest in further properties, which we then would manage. We already have three now, in addition to these five seed assets. We have three projects (two in Majorca and one in the Caribbean) and we are looking for other possibilities especially here in Greece.

About the Author
Nikos is Greek-American born in New York, USA, and has lived in Greece for over 30 years. He is the managing editor of Greece's leading monthly travel and tourism guide, the Greek Travel Pages (GTP) since June 2008 and of news site GTP Headlines since its launch in September 2012. Nikos has also served as international press officer for the City of Athens and for the mayor. He has a degree in Mass Media and Communications, specializing in Journalism. Nikos is a native English speaker and speaks Greek fluently.

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