British travel group Thomas Cook on Monday declared bankruptcy, disrupting flights and services for millions of tourists, including in African destinations like Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
Thomas Cook failed to reach a last-ditch rescue deal, triggering the UK’s biggest repatriation since World War II to bring back stranded passengers.
The 178-year-old operator had been desperately seeking $250 million from private investors to save it from collapse.
“Despite considerable efforts, those discussions have not resulted in agreement between the company’s stakeholders and proposed new money providers,” Thomas Cook said in a statement.
“The company’s board has therefore concluded that it had no choice but to take steps to enter into compulsory liquidation with immediate effect.”
Repatriating British tourists
The government said it had hired planes to fly home an estimated 150,000 holidaymakers to the UK, in an operation starting on Monday.
“Following the collapse of Thomas Cook and the cancellation of all its flights, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that the government and UK Civil Aviation Authority has hired dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge,” a separate statement said, describing it as the largest repatriation in peacetime history.
“All customers currently abroad with Thomas Cook who are booked to return to the UK over the next two weeks will be brought home as close as possible to their booked return date.”
Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser called it a “deeply sad day”.
“It is a matter of profound regret to me and the rest of the board that we were not successful,” he said.
“This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered package holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world,” he added in the group’s statement.
As well as the grounding of its planes, Thomas Cook has been forced to shut travel agencies, leaving the group’s 22,000 global employees, 9,000 of whom are in Britain, out of a job.
Stranded in Tunisia
Holidaymakers had already reported problems, with guests at a hotel in Tunisia owed money by Thomas Cook being asked for extra money before being allowed to leave, according to a tourist interviewed by AFP.
Gary Seale, a guest at the Orangers Hotel in Hammamet, posted on Facebook at 9.39pm: “security have refused to let us out of the hotel and barricaded us in”. He later posted that he reached the airport later on Saturday and flew home on Sunday.
Thomas Cook said on Twitter on Sunday it would refund customers who paid on their credit cards for their hotel before leaving Tunisia and would not be sending any new arrivals to Les Orangers, Tunsia.
Tunisia’s Tourism Ministry on Sunday attributed the incident to a “misunderstanding” and said the tourists had been able to leave on the flight on which were originally booked.
Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt are part of Thomas Cook’s top travel destinations.
Last year, Thomas Cook announced that its to Egypt had increased by 40 percent year-on-year, with Marsa Alam and Hurghada as the top destinations.
An illustrious history
Cabinet maker Thomas Cook created the travel firm in 1841 to carry temperance supporters by train between British cities.
It soon began arranging foreign trips, being the first operator to take British travellers on escorted visits to Europe in 1855, to the United States in 1866 and on a round-the-world trips in 1872.
The company was also a pioneer in introducing “circular note”, products that would later become traveler’s cheques.