Coming & Going: Travel agency Thomas Cook falters, 100 Miles of Lights and more

November 25, 2011
Woe is Thomas Cook

British travel agency Thomas Cook could probably use a vacation about now — but will the storied company be around to book it?

Europe’s second-largest tour operator is suffering financial woes that may threaten its livelihood and the holiday plans of countless vacationers. According to reports, shares in the debt-beleaguered firm recently fell 75 percent, endangering its existence.

“What we are seeing is the changeover from the traditional world of travel to the modern world,” said Carroll Rheem, director of research at PhoCusWright, a global travel market research company. “And it’s painful.”

The company, which sells more than 22 million trips a year in the United Kingdom, is best known for its bricks-and-mortar offices that organize packages for Europeans with enviable vacation time. It has been slow to move online and give travelers greater control over planning, such as hotel selection.

Thomas Cook has also been jostled by the weak economy as folks stay closer to home and go away for shorter periods.

But if the group does go under, customers won’t be abandoned. The Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing, which is overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority, has their backs.

“If a tour operator goes out of business,” the regulator explains on its Web site, “the CAA will ensure you do not lose the money you paid over, or if you’re abroad, we’ll arrange for you to finish your holiday and fly home.”

Eulogists shouldn’t pull out their pens just yet, though. The company, whose eponym organized his first group excursion in 1841 (a rail journey to an English temperance meeting), has a history and reputation that could help keep it afloat.

“Thomas Cook is a very strong brand in Europe,” Rheem said. “I think they’ll pull through this, but they definitely need to do some reinventing.”

Lights on in Virginia

Virginia lights up our life, or at least 100 miles of it.

The first segment of the state’s luminous seasonal event, 100 Miles of Lights, switched on this weekend at Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. The Dominion GardenFest of Lights features more than 700,000 lights, floral decorations, fairy abodes, s’mores roasts and more Nature’s DeLIGHTS (their spelling, not CoGo’s). The event runs through Jan. 9.

Other holidazzling events: Colonial Williamsburg’s Grand Illumination (Dec. 3); a two-mile drive-through, Celebration in Lights, in Newport News (through Jan. 1); Hampton’s lighted boat parade (Dec. 3); and Virginia Beach’s McDonald’s Holiday Lights on the Beach, which lets light-peepers drive on the boardwalk. Info: www.virginia.org/100milesoflights.

Travel ticker

Parasailing is out in the Caribbean, at least on four cruise lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Carnival. The companies suspended the diversion after a passenger died parasailing on St. Thomas.

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