The travel industry throughout Ireland, the UK and beyond has been responding with messages of sympathy and offers of support for affected passengers and staff to Sunday night’s sad news that the 178-year-old UK tour operator Thomas Cook Group had collapsed after last-minute negotiations failed. ITTN’s News & Features Editor Neil Steedman asked five people from the Irish industry for their comments.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority announced that the company, which was founded in 1841, has “ceased trading with immediate effect”. Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook’s Chief Executive, said the firm’s collapse was a “matter of profound regret” and apologised to the firm’s “millions of customers, and thousands of employees”.
The CAA has set up a dedicated website: thomascook.caa.co.uk. A 24-hour helpline has been set up: 0300 303 2800 from the UK and Ireland and +44 1733 330 330 from overseas.
The company’s 105 aircraft have been grounded (some had already been impounded by overseas airports) and all flights cancelled. Approximately 600,000 Thomas Cook clients are currently overseas, including more than 150,000 from the UK, and the company employed some 22,000 people worldwide.
The CAA is contacting hotels accommodating Thomas Cook customers who have booked as part of a package to tell them that the cost of their accommodation will be covered by the UK Government through the Air Travel Trust Fund and Air Travel Organiser’s Licence scheme (ATOL) and has chartered more than 40 aircraft, which are already in position, to take passengers home in an emergency operation codenamed Operation Matterhorn.
The Irish Travel Agents Association said: “Through our member travel agents, we have received reports of a minimal number of holidaymakers from the Republic of Ireland being affected by the British travel company Thomas Cook ceasing to trade.
“Thomas Cook operated a very successful tour operation business in Dublin until five years ago and its two shops closed over 10 years ago. It operates no flights from the Republic of Ireland, however around a dozen Thomas Cook flights have been leaving from Belfast each week over the summer and many Irish people from the north could be affected.
“While this closure is a distress for all involved – holiday makers, staff and our fellow travel industry professionals in the UK – it does demonstrate the importance of consumer protection. In this instance the UK’s Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) scheme ensures that most British travellers should not be left out of pocket or stranded overseas. The ATOL scheme is comparable to the bonding system in Ireland, which all travel agents and tour operators have to have and which offers protection to holidaymakers if a travel firm collapses.
“It is obviously a worrying time for all concerned, but one of the key roles of a travel agent is to act on behalf of customers in times of crisis. Travel agents in the North and across the entire UK are snapping into action to assist their customers affected by the collapse of Thomas Cook.
“The Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) in Ireland is continuing to monitor the situation.
“The ITAA advises any holidaymakers affected by the collapse of Thomas Cook to contact the travel agent with whom they booked their holiday or the UK Foreign Office.”
Niall McDonnell, Classic Collection Holidays: “This is very sad for a lot of people that I know from the days I worked in Thomas Cook, which was very much the father of the tour operating industry as a whole. Hopefully, as it always does, the industry will rally round and sort out everything for TC‘s clients.”
Mary McCormack, Sunway: “It is very sad. Thomas Cook was the trailblazer but this is the result of bad management and foolish mistakes, including the £1 deposit to chase the mass market and changing direction. I have been made redundant on several occasions so I know what it’s like, and I feel for the staff. Thomas Cook staff were always very well trained and many went on to establish their own agencies.”
Ciara Foley, Platinum Travel: “I have a huge amount of sympathy for the staff, who are now facing into the unknown, but the travel trade will give as much support as they can, as they always do, I am sure. For all current and future passengers, this is a reminder that they can be reassured that they are financially protected when they book through a travel agent. My thoughts are also with the smaller hoteliers, who may well suffer more from this than the major hotel chains.”
Fiona Dobbyn, Classic Resorts: “It is very disappointing news and a sad time for the industry – but it is also a sign of the times. Combining tour operations with owning an airline may have been a drain on the company.”
Jean Claffey, Joe Walsh Tours: “I think that any clients in the Republic of Ireland would have booked directly with Thomas Cook, so travel agents here should not be affected too much. However, the situation is probably different in Northern Ireland, so agents there may well be more affected.”