Thomas Cook is set to challenge the growing band of online travel sites by enabling its customers to book, confirm and pay for their holiday travel and accommodation online.
The company claims to be the first high street travel agent to allow customers to search for, book and pay for holidays on the internet.
Until today, customers visiting the Thomas Cook website have only been able to search through its more than 2.5 million holiday packages. Although customers could pick a particular holiday destination, a telephone call was still required as bookings were handled by Thomas Cook Direct, the UK based telephone sales operation.
"The newly enhanced Thomas Cook website is now a complete and comprehensive online travel service. Our customers can choose, plan and book all types of holidays from complete package holidays to flight only deals from the convenience of their own home," said Bill James, director at Thomas Cook Interactive.
IT services firm ICL will provide the design, architecture and applications for the new service and will also provide hardware maintenance, applications and operating systems support to the travel agent.
Thomas Cook has often refuted claims that online bookings would lead to the closure of high street branches. It said about 86 per cent of their online customers had not used the company previously. However, a survey of major UK travel operators, conducted in 1999 by researcher Byline, found that almost three quarters of respondents see online travel sites as their most fearsome competitors.
Earlier this year research company Gartner Group estimated that the online travel market will be worth around $30 billion by the end of 2001. It said travel companies that don't offer online reservations, ticket sales and customisable travel information risk losing their business.
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