While it is a UK-based company, travel agency consortia and organizations in the U.S. and Canada are weighing in on the impact of the loss of Thomas Cook, which has filed for insolvency and stranded hundreds of thousands of UK travelers abroad.
“It is a sad day in the travel community as we mourn the loss of Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel firm,” says Zane Kerby, president and CEO of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). “With tens of thousands of lost jobs and hundreds of thousands of affected travelers, the impact is real and substantial.”
“The failure of the iconic Thomas Cook brand is a significant loss to our industry,” agrees Travel Leaders Group President J.D. O’Hara. “Our thoughts are with the employees and travelers who are impacted by this unfortunate turn of events.”
Travel Leaders Group’s UK brand, Barrhead Travel, does have customers that have been impacted, and the Barrhead team has been working to assist them. The company’s other UK brands are primarily focused on other markets that are not impacted by Thomas Cook’s insolvency.
“Right now, our customers are our priority; we have an emergency team in place who have been working around the clock to get in touch with our clients and to start making alternative arrangements to rebook their holidays,” says Barrhead Travel President Jacqueline Dobson. “We would ask our customers to please bear with us while we ensure that those who are currently on holiday or imminently due to travel are contacted as a priority. We will then be working through all of our bookings by date of travel.”
Dobson notes that all of Barrhead’s vacations are fully protected through Air Travel Organizers’ Licensing (ATOL), a UK program that offers financial protection to those who have purchased package vacations and flights from a member tour operator.
Dobson also invited former Thomas Cook employees to apply for positions on Barrhead’s recruitment website; the brand is currently hiring for trained travel consultants and store managers.
A spokesperson for Virtuoso tells Travel Agent that, because Thomas Cook was not a preferred partner, the impact on the network has been nominal. At the same time, Virtuoso is reaching out to its members that may have been impacted to offer assistance where it can, as well as providing member toolkits on its website where advisors can access current information, client messaging and industry best practices.
Had Thomas Cook been a preferred partner, Virtuoso would have researched and, if appropriate, put into practice a remediation plan. Failure to comply with or fulfill the remediation plan results in termination.
Since the news of Thomas Cook’s insolvency broke, the conversation has turned to the reasons behind the collapse. Analysts have pointed to a number of factors, including the rise of online booking sites, uncertainty over Brexit, political instability in some of the tour operator’s most popular destinations and even an unusually hot summer last year that meant UK travelers were less motivated to head for warmer climes.
ASTA CEO Kerby says that, while the impact of Thomas Cook’s loss is real, the travel advisor industry as a whole remains strong.
“The Thomas Cook situation is not indicative of the declining health of the overall travel advisor industry. Far from it,” Kerby says. “According to our independent recent research study, travel advisors report strong business demand, and growth for 2020.”
Kerby cited ASTA’s ongoing consumer research, which over the past six years has recorded more and more consumers making use of travel advisors. Additionally, the vast majority of ASTA members have said that their businesses are growing, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s numbers for travel agency employment continue to grow, up eight percent over five years.
Resources for Travelers
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been organizing repatriation flights for UK travelers stranded abroad by the cancellation of all Thomas Cook flights and vacation packages. The first flight left New York – JFK for Manchester on Monday.
The CAA has set up a website for affected travelers at thomascook.caa.co.uk.
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has also set up a page of advice for travelers at abta.com.