Thomas Cook faces boycott over Corfu gas deaths

Christianne and Robert Shepherd Image copyright PA
Image caption Christianne and Robert Shepherd, from Horbury, near Wakefield, died from carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Corfu in 2006

Thomas Cook is facing a consumer backlash over its handling of the deaths of two British children on holiday in Corfu. There are calls for people to boycott the travel company, but will the company suffer long-term damage from the fall out?

Simon Eldritch vowed never to use Thomas Cook again after hearing how the company responded to the deaths of Christi and Bobby Shepherd.

He set up a Facebook page encouraging his friends to do the same, expecting "about half a dozen of them to give it a like".

A few days later, the page now has more than 10,000 likes and is full of comments from people expressing their disgust, despite the company agreeing to give the family a "financial gesture of goodwill".

Similar pages also have thousands of likes, Twitter is littered with the hashtag #BoycottThomasCook, and a petition has more than 3,800 signatures.

"The backlash has been astronomical," said Mr Eldritch, who had to take time off work to manage the Facebook page.

"We've got thousands and thousands of people vowing never to use them again."

Image copyright Thomas Cook / Facebook
Image caption Thomas Cook's Facebook page has been hijacked by people leaving comments relating to the deaths in Corfu

Meanwhile, Thomas Cook appears to have abandoned its own Facebook page.

The last update was over a week ago, on the day an inquest jury concluded Thomas Cook had "breached its duty of care".

In the Facebook update, the company pointed out an investigation by the Greek authorities had "cleared Thomas Cook's employees of any wrong doing".

Posts from previous days - featuring photos of idyllic beaches and swimming pools - have now been hijacked by people leaving irate comments.

People seem particularly angry about Thomas Cook receiving £3m in compensation.

"I am sure that you can afford that view with the millions you made from the deaths of Christi and Bobby Shepherd," said a typical comment under a photo of a beach.

In response to the criticism, Thomas Cook has pledged to donate half of the compensation to the charity Unicef, and said the remaining £1.5m went to its insurers for underwriting legal fees.

On Saturday it was announced the bungalow where the children died at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel - whose owners still have business links with Thomas Cook - would be demolished, as their parents had requested.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Neil Shepherd and Sharon Wood have previously been highly critical of Thomas Cook

Ashley Braganza, professor of organisational transformation at Brunel Business School, said Thomas Cook had "started to take steps to show a more compassionate side".

"If that compassion comes across as being authentic and genuine, if the organisation were to say, 'yes we made a mistake and we are genuinely looking to make up for this', I think people are more likely to be forgiving," he said.

"I can imagine that in the short term they will potentially suffer financially as people carry through their boycott.

"In terms of what damage this has done to the brand in the longer term it's going to be hard to assess."

Image copyright Handout (via PA)
Image caption The children were poisoned by carbon monoxide from a faulty boiler

Outside one branch of Thomas Cook in Nottingham, several potential holidaymakers were not even aware of the children's deaths.

Joseph Hall, 38, who had been inside to sort out travel insurance for a trip to Barcelona, said what happened was a "sad, sad story".

However, he felt the backlash against Thomas Cook was unfair for the majority of staff, who had nothing to do with the deaths.

"At the end of the day, Thomas Cook individuals are not evil people, they are just people going to a job," he said.

Image caption Geoff and Pat Ward do not think the backlash will have a significant effect

Pat and Geoff Ward normally use a different travel agent, but said the deaths would not deter them from using Thomas Cook.

"That sort of thing can happen anywhere, even in caravans in Lincolnshire," said Mrs Ward, 61.

"I would say if somebody says they are not going to use Thomas Cook they don't mean it.

"When they want a holiday, whichever is the best value they will use it."

Mr Ward, 63, predicted what happened "will be forgotten in a week".

"Accidents happen and there's nowt you can do to change it," he said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Hotel manager George Chrysikopoulos and two members of staff were convicted of negligent manslaughter

Thomas Cook was asked to comment on whether the backlash had affected bookings over the last few days, but declined to do so.

The children were poisoned by carbon monoxide in 2006, but Thomas Cook's chief executive Peter Fankhauser only publicly apologised on Wednesday.

Two Thomas Cook workers were cleared of manslaughter by negligence by a court in Corfu in 2010, but the manager of the hotel and two other members of staff were convicted.

Mr Shepherd and Mrs Wood have previously criticised Thomas Cook for not apologising to them.

Image copyright From Twitter
Image caption People have tweeted their disgust using the hashtag #BoycottThomasCook

Nigel Quinlan, who set up one of the numerous Facebook pages calling for a boycott, said he was "absolutely horrified" at Thomas Cook's attitude to the family.

"I don't know the family at all, but I have two young children and cannot imagine what the parents feel or how they cope," said Mr Quinlan, who works as a lawyer, mainly in family courts.

"The way they have been treated must have made this tragedy an even worse matter for them."

He added he "would love to see Thomas Cook go out of business".

Image copyright Thomas Cook Group
Image caption Thomas Cook's chief executive Peter Fankhauser apologised on Wednesday

However, Ben Botes, a marketing lecturer at the London School of Business and Finance, does not think this will happen.

"Thomas Cook is a long established and trusted brand in the UK," he said.

"Although they might see some backlash from a small part of their client base in the short-term, it will soon be business as usual."

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