The collapse of the UK-based Thomas Cook group has sent shockwaves through Barbados tourism industry.
However, local officials have immediately sprung into action and are working on a plan to mitigate any potential fallout.
The 178-year-old company officially ended its operations on Sunday after last-minute negotiations aimed at saving it failed.
The Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) said it was saddened by the news, noting: “We were aware of the company’s ongoing financial challenges for some time. It is a major blow to the industry to lose the world’s oldest travel company.”
The BTMI further noted however that it was working closely with the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport and the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) to minimize the impact to Barbados’ tourism business.
“Our first priority is working with the BHTA to facilitate solutions for the visitors currently on island who would have booked Thomas Cook packages. While customers are entitled to refunds from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), we are committed to ensuring minimal discomfort and disruption to their Barbados holidays due to the fallout.
“It is estimated that there are currently only 44 Thomas Cook guests on the island, all booked through scheduled airlines and it is likely that they will not be considered as stranded passengers,” the BTMI said, following a meeting with ministry officials.
It was not immediately clear how many local hotels or room nights would be impacted as a result of the failure of the global travel group.
However, a quick check with some hotels revealed that the majority of the British holidaymakers who use the Thomas Cook holiday service were scheduled to start arriving in November.
Thomas Cook UK currently operates three flights to Barbados from Manchester in the winter, as well as a direct flight from the London Gatwick airport, providing a total of approximately 24,000 seats to the destination each year.
Condor, a subsidiary of the Thomas Cook Group, provides 12,600 seats through its summer and winter business to Barbados from Frankfurt.
Thomas Cook UK Plc and its associated UK entities have entered compulsory liquidation, indicating that its UK business has ceased trading with immediate effect and all future flights and holidays are cancelled. All Thomas Cook retail shops have also closed.
“A dedicated support service is being provided by the Civil Aviation Authority to assist customers currently overseas and those in the UK with future bookings” it said.
The BTMI said it estimated that about 60 per cent of Thomas Cook’s winter business to the island would have been booked in advance, and that it was already working on a strategy to assist any displaced passengers.
“The Honourable Kerrie Symmonds, Minister of Tourism and International Transport, is already in the UK meeting with other airline partners who currently service Thomas Cook’s routes,” the BTMI said.
The island’s tourism marketing arm said it was also considering the implications for the air-to-sea cruise programme, which could be potentially impacted by the loss of the chartered Thomas Cook flights.
“We have already commenced discussions with cruise and airline partners who can service the fallout,” the BTMI said.
Barbados TODAY reached out to officials of the popular Foster & Ince Cruise Services here, but they declined to comment on the development.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of the BHTA Senator Rudy Grant, who is also in the UK with Symmonds, expressed concern about the development.
“The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association is very concerned about the recent failure of Thomas Cook and its impact for the winter season when the service would be operating,” said Grant, adding that the BHTA was also participating in discussions led by the Tourism Minister.
He explained that the BHTA was identifying specifically the number of room nights that would impact its members so it could work with those affected and the BTMI to have the “right market response”.
“Our initial discussions are concentrated on ensuring that we are able to secure the long-stay visitor arrivals that would have utilized Thomas Cook for the winter, but also to identify the possible options available to assist in the cruise-and-stay home-porting area as well,” he explained.
It is estimated that the failure of the tour operator has put some 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, and hundreds of thousand of people would be stranded.
So far, the British Government has promised to get the firm’s 150,000 UK-based customers back home from vacation spots around the world, while Virgin Atlantic has tweeted that it would be helping to bring Thomas Cook passengers and staff home from Cuba, Jamaica and the United States.
Grant said based on discussions so far between Barbados and its UK partners he was “confident” that Barbados’ response through Symmonds, would allow the destination to be able to properly deal with the fallout.
Meanwhile, the BTMI said it continues preparation to launch a direct service on October 28, 2019 from Frankfurt to Barbados as a result of a new partnership with the Lufthansa Group.
The partnership is focused on increasing business out of Europe and is projected to bring over 25,000 new seats to Barbados annually. [email protected]