Interview – David Child: ‘Thomas Cook Continues to Focus on Greece By All Means’
“For us, Greece has been the birthplace for our latest hotel innovations… and that’s why we will continue to focus on this country by all means.” – David Child
Thomas Cook is looking to expand its own-brand hotel portfolio in Greece, a longstanding popular destination for the UK tour operator.
“We are already in advanced discussions with several partners about exciting projects for next year and beyond,” according to David Child, the head of communications for Thomas Cook Hotels and Resorts.
Following the recent opening of Thomas Cook’s latest own-brand hotel – the Casa Cook Chania – on Crete, GTP Headlines caught up with David to talk about the company’s future plans in the Greek market.
“We want to continue opening more own-brand hotels in Greece,” David said.
According to the news he shared with us, it seems that Thomas Cook shows no sign of slowing down in investing in the country.
In this interview, among other things, David tells us that Thomas Cook’s consortium, Thomas Cook Hotel Investments (TCHI), acquired the 100-room Casa Cook Kos, which is Thomas Cook’s highest-performing own-brand hotel, and a greenfield plot on Kos, on which the company intends to build a 250-room Cook’s Club for next summer.
Greece is Thomas Cook’s second biggest destination behind Spain.
- GTP: David, please give us an update on Thomas Cook’s latest activities in the Greek market. Specifically in regards to the opening of the four hotels – on Crete, Kos and Rhodes – for summer 2019.
David Child: Greece has been a longstanding popular destination for Thomas Cook and its customers due to the beauty of its beaches, thriving culture and rich history. We took our first guests to Greece in 1869! Right now, Greece remains Thomas Cook’s second biggest destination behind Spain.
We expect to continue growing Greece as a destination building on the relationship with existing hotel partners, as we strive to bring more of our hotel brands to the country and we are looking to expand our own-brand hotel portfolio in Greece. We are already in advanced discussions with several partners about exciting projects for next year and beyond. This summer we will have 48 own-brand hotels open for customers in the country. We directly employ 1,200 people in Greece through a combination of in-destination customer support teams, quality management, contracting and hotel employees.
We would like to expand our Sunwing resorts brand that is so successful in Greece, as we have lots of demand from our customers for large, family sized rooms with high quality accommodation and plenty of space for families to enjoy the many facilities available. In this context, Casa Cook Chania on Crete is the first Casa Cook for families. The hotel’s bespoke kids’ concept breaks from traditional family hotel set up.
In addition, the recent acquisition of Casa Cook Kos – our most loved hotel – is an important step in the evolution of our hotel business, as well as the addition of two new Cook’s Club on Kos and Rhodes.
- GTP: It is obvious that Thomas Cook has a high interest to invest in Greece. Are there any other plans regarding new projects in the country?
David Child: This winter we invested 7 million euros in our largest hotel in the country, the Sunwing Kallithea on Rhodes. Improvements included the addition of swim-up rooms at the hotel to meet the demand from customers who want more luxury accommodation. We want to continue opening more own-brand hotels in Greece. Our first Casa Cook and Cook’s Club opened here in the last three years. This summer sees Thomas Cook open the first Casa Cook for families in Chania and two Cook’s Club in Kos and Rhodes, as I mentioned previously.
Now, we are planning to invest an equal amount of money – 7 million euros – in the local market, so within the next two years we will renovate another building of Sunwing Kallithea and Sunwing Makrigialos on Crete.
Our hotel fund, Thomas Cook Hotel Investments (TCHI), has been set up to help Thomas Cook accelerate its ambition of managing more of its own-brand hotels and is focused on investing in opportunities in Greece, Spain and around the Mediterranean. The speed with which we have been able to acquire these hotels is clear evidence of our intent to grow rapidly the fund’s portfolio. Especially, it shows the flexibility of our eight hotel brands, allowing us to consider properties of varying shapes and sizes to create a hotel our customers will love.
- GTP: Have any more Greek hotels been added to Thomas Cook’s portfolio of own-brand hotels through its hotel investments fund?
David Child: Yes, we are very happy about Thomas Cook announcing that its hotel fund, Thomas Cook Hotel Investments (TCHI), has acquired two hotel properties in Greece including one of the company’s flagship hotels, Casa Cook Kos. The acquisitions mean that the fund now has nearly doubled its portfolio in just over a year, to nine locations, four of which are in Greece. The fund has bought the 100-room Casa Cook Kos, which is Thomas Cook’s highest-performing own-brand hotel based on customer feedback, a greenfield plot on Kos, on which the company intends to build a 250-room Cook’s Club for next summer and the 252-room Sunwing Arguineguin hotel in Gran Canaria.
- GTP: While we are on the subject, how is Thomas Cook’s portfolio of own-brand hotels developing?
David Child: Well, our primary focus is to grow by taking more management contracts and ownership rather than franchises to support profitable growth and greater control of quality. This summer, we’re opening 17 new hotels including the aforementioned first Casa Cook designed for families in Chania, Crete; our first Casa Cook in Spain; and eight Cook’s Club across Europe. We will also continue to close hotels that do not meet our quality standards.
We are currently in the top five largest sun and beach hotel groups in Europe (others inc. Barcelo, Iberostar and NH Hotel Group) with 200 hotels and around 40,000 rooms across 47 destinations, while we are opening a further 17 own-brand hotels this year, including three Casa Cooks (Ibiza, Chania and El Gouna) and eight Cook’s Clubs.
Just this week, we released details of our investment program, unveiled at the official launch of Cook’s Club Palma Beach, which is also part of Thomas Cook’s continued drive to grow its own-brand hotels and resorts business and cement its position as one of Spain’s top five international hotel chains. Cook’s Club Palma Beach opened last month following a 5 million euros renovation to transform the former smartline Lancaster into a 318-room affordable design hotel aimed at attracting a new generation of travelers to Thomas Cook – and this part of Mallorca.
Our target is to have 250 own-brand hotels by 2021 and to double the amount of hotels we manage or own. Right now, our current hotel portfolio consists from 85 percent franchised, 15 percent managed/owned hotels. The goal is to grow sales of own-brand hotels by 30 percnt this summer by continuing to increase the quality and range of properties on offer to customers in our key destinations.
- GTP: How many tourists did Thomas Cook send to Greece in 2018. What is the forecast for this year, considering that Greece this year dropped one place among the top five destinations of Thomas Cook, according to the company’s 2019 UK Holiday Report.
David Child: Having brought our first guests to Greece in 1869 – nearly 150 years ago – and opened our first office in Athens in 1883, we think we have the longest-standing relationship with the country. Last year, we managed to bring almost 3 million holidaymakers to the country and we expect to do around the same this year too, or slightly less.
The charms of Greece and its many islands continue to entice the Brits and Germans, with the country sitting at third position in the holiday rankings this year, according to UK and German Holiday Reports. Basically, we believe that this is the outcome from the tourism flow movement around new destinations and it is not a negative message for Greek tourism. For us, Greece has been the birthplace for our latest hotel innovations of Casa Cook and Cook’s Club, as well as home to some of our longest-standing hotels including Sunwing Kallithea on Rhodes and that’s why we will continue to focus on this country by all means.
- GTP: Staying on the previous question, what is the reason for this shift in the preferences of the British market? What would your advice be for Greece to regain its position?
David Child: Preferences of British tourists in destinations change almost every year due to socio-economic, political factors and new trends. Tourists are interested in traveling outside the EU, due to the exchange rate. This means that markets such as Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt are competing against Greece, by offering cheaper holidays to hotels with upgraded products.
We would like to understand from the Greek authorities whether the airport infrastructure will be able to handle the additional capacity, provided there are increased flights into the Greek airports. We want our guests to have a seamless journey arriving and departing Greek airports and so further investment to minimize delays would be welcomed. Thus, we welcome the move to more year-round tourism but it is important that the local infrastructure and facilities available for visitors are there to support.
- GTP: What would your message to Greek professionals be?
David Child: We invite hoteliers who are looking for innovation and great brands, matched with the distribution power of our tour operator, to join us on our journey.