Hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers were stranded on Monday by the collapse of the world’s oldest travel firm Thomas Cook, sparking the largest peacetime repatriation effort in British history.
The liquidation marks the end of a British company that started in 1841 running local rail excursions and grew to pioneer the family package holiday.
Running hotels, resorts and airlines for 19 million people a year, it has around 600,000 people abroad and will need the help of governments and insurance firms to bring them home from places as far afield as Cancun, Cuba and Cyprus.
Thomas Cook’s demise, announced in the early hours of Monday after it failed to secure a deal with creditors or a government bailout, sparked alarm at hotels where some customers have been asked to pay their bills anew by out-of-pocket resort owners.
As well as its 21,000 employees, the company’s fall hit global booking websites, credit card companies, travel firms using its airlines and British high streets where its travel agents were forced to shut. Major holiday destinations including Turkey and Greece also warned their hoteliers would suffer.
Tour operators selling customers transport, accommodation and excursions in a single package have been struggling for years due to the rise of budget airlines and cheap online competition from the likes of Airbnb.
Some have carved out a niche in specialist trips such as safaris. But Thomas Cook struggled to adapt due in part to a $2.1 billion debt pile built up over a series of ill-fated deals. It had to sell three million holidays a year just to cover interest payments.