Thomas Cook collapses, stranding 150,000 UK holidaymakers

La empresa de viajes más antigua del mundo, Thomas Cook, quebró el lunes, dejando atrapados a cientos de miles de turistas en todo el mundo y desatando el mayor esfuerzo de repatriación en tiempos de paz de la historia del Reino Unido.

La liquidación supone el fin de una de las empresas más antiguas de Reino Unido, que comenzó su andadura en 1841 realizando excursiones locales en tren y sobreviviendo a dos guerras mundiales para convertirse en pionera en los paquetes de vacaciones y en el turismo de masas.

La empresa gestionaba hoteles, complejos turísticos y líneas aéreas para 19 millones de personas al año en 16 países. Actualmente tiene 600.000 personas en el extranjero, lo que obliga a los Gobiernos y a las compañías de seguros a coordinar una gran operación de rescate.

El consejero delegado, Peter Fankhauser, dijo que era muy triste que la empresa hubiera quebrado al no haber conseguido un paquete de rescate de sus prestamistas en unas frenéticas conversaciones que se prolongaron durante el fin de semana.

La Autoridad de Aviación Civil del Reino Unido (CAA) dijo que Thomas Cook había dejado de operar y que el regulador y el Gobierno tenían una flota de aviones lista para empezar a traer a casa a los más de 150.000 clientes británicos en las próximas dos semanas.

“Me gustaría pedir disculpas a nuestros millones de clientes y a los miles de empleados, proveedores y socios que nos han apoyado durante muchos años”, dijo Fankhauser en un comunicado difundido en la madrugada del lunes.

“Es una cuestión de profundo pesar para mí y para el resto del consejo que no lo hayamos conseguido.”

El Gobierno y el regulador de la aviación dijeron que, debido a la magnitud de la situación, era inevitable que se produjeran algunas perturbaciones. Todos los vuelos de la compañía han sido cancelados.

Se les ha comunicado a los clientes que no viajen a los aeropuertos hasta que se les informe a través de una página web especial —thomascook.caa.co.uk— que deben tomar un vuelo de regreso que está siendo organizado por el Gobierno.

El regulador británico también se está poniendo en contacto con los hoteles que acogen a clientes de Thomas Cook para decirles que el Gobierno les pagará a través de un plan de seguros.

GRAVES CONSECUENCIAS

El derrumbe de la empresa puede provocar escenas caóticas en todo el mundo, al quedarse muchos turistas atrapados en hoteles que no han cobrado en lugares tan lejanos como Goa, Gambia y Grecia.

A largo plazo, también podría afectar a los sectores turísticos de los principales destinos de la compañía, como España y Turquía, dejar sin efectivo a los proveedores de combustible y forzar el cierre de los centenares de agencias de viajes que tiene en las principales calles británicas.

Thomas Cook ha sucumbido ante una deuda de 1.700 millones de libras (2.100 millones de dólares), la competencia en Internet, un mercado de viajes cambiante y acontecimientos geopolíticos que pueden desbaratar su temporada de verano. La ola de calor europea del año pasado también afectó mucho a la empresa, ya que los clientes pospusieron las reservas de última hora.

El grupo parecía estar listo para un rescate tras acordar las condiciones principales de un plan de recapitalización de 900 millones de libras en un pacto con su mayor accionista, la empresa china Fosun, y con los bancos de la agencia de viajes en agosto.

Pero a la hora de cerrar los términos del acuerdo, la empresa se vio afectada por la petición de los acreedores de otros 200 millones de libras para dar luz verde a la refinanciación. Reuters

En el aeropuerto de Frankfurt, Alemania, el 23 de septiembre de 2019, se muestra un servicio de check-in cerrado de Thomas Cook. REUTERS / Kai Pfaffenbach

ENGLISH

About 9,000 British jobs at risk after last-minute rescue talks fail to keep firm afloat

Thomas Cook has ceased trading after talks failed to produce a funding lifeline for the ailing travel company, placing 9,000 British jobs at risk and triggering a huge repatriation effort to bring home 150,000 UK holidaymakers overseas.

The Civil Aviation Authority announced at 2am on Monday morning that the world’s oldest holiday company had gone into administration and that all flights and bookings had been cancelled.

“Thomas Cook Group, including the UK tour operator and airline, has ceased trading with immediate effect,” the aviation regulator said in a statement. “All Thomas Cook bookings, including flights and holidays, have now been cancelled.”

The official administration was timed for the early hours when the largest number of the 94-strong fleet of planes were on the ground.

Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook’s chief executive, said the tour operator’s collapse was a “matter of profound regret” as he apologised to the company’s “millions of customers, and thousands of employees”.

The government and the CAA have now triggered the UK’s largest ever peacetime repatriation – codenamed Operation Matterhorn – to bring holidaymakers home.

Speaking to reporters on his plane heading to the UN general assembly in New York, Boris Johnson hinted at possible government action against directors of travel firms who presided over bankruptcies. The prime minister said that in the wake of the collapse of the budget airline Monarch and Thomas Cook, it was time to “reflect on whether the directors of these companies are properly incentivised to sort such matters out”.

Johnson said it did not seem the government could have done more to help, for example agreeing to Thomas Cook’s request for a £150m bailout. “It is a very difficult situation, and obviously our thoughts are very much with the customers of Thomas Cook, the holidaymakers, who may now face difficulties getting home,” he said. “We will do our level best to get them home.”

The Guardian understands that airlines including British Airways and easyJet will be involved in the airlift for holidaymakers using Thomas Cook, whose destinations range from mainland Europe to north Africa, the Middle East, the US and the Caribbean.

The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said on Sunday that the government had contingency plans in place for passengers and sought to reassure holidaymakers that they would not end up stuck overseas. The company had appealed to ministers for a bailout but Raab said the government did not “systemically step in” unless it was in the national interest.

“We would wait to see and hope that [Thomas Cook] can continue but in any event, as you would expect, we’ve got the contingency planning in place to make sure that in any worst-case scenario we can support all those who might otherwise be stranded,” Raab told the BBC.

A last-ditch meeting at a law firm in central London between Thomas Cook executives and stakeholders including the firm’s largest shareholder, Chinese conglomerate Fosun, came to a close after 5pm on Sunday, ending talks that began at 9am.

The tour operator is understood to have made a number of proposals, including asking lenders to reduce a £200m demand for extra funding and for credit card companies to release about £50m of cash they are holding as collateral against Thomas Cook bookings.

Thomas Cook’s chief executive, Peter Fankhauserleft the meeting through the City law firm’s loading bay flanked by colleagues without saying anything about the deal. He also stayed quiet when asked if he had any message for customers trapped abroad.

Thomas Cook has struggled to cope with a £1.7bn debt burden. The 11th-hour meeting came after the company had agreed a £900m bailout – but was then told to find another £200m, which proved a step too far.

Meanwhile, Thomas Cook holidaymakers were anxious that they might be evicted from their hotels or charged again for their holidays. Holiday companies do not normally pay hotels until up to 90 days after guests have left.

Customers at a hotel in Tunisia reported being locked in by security guards as the hotel demanded extra money, fearing it would not be paid by Thomas Cook. However, the company said the dispute had been resolved and holidaymakers were able to leave the hotel.

Thomas Cook also attempted to reassure worried customers that their package holidays were protected under the Atol scheme, which guarantees the bookings of package holidaymakers. Atol covers holiday accommodation as well as return flights if customers are abroad at the time of a collapse. Future bookings are also protected.

The total cost of holidaymakers’ guarantees to be paid by the Atol scheme – underwritten by the Civil Aviation Authority watchdog – is an estimated £600m now that the company has gone bust.

The business, which also has significant operations in mainland Europe, employs 21,000 people, many in the UK. It has a total of 600,000 people on holiday currently, including British travellers, with Germany and Scandinavia among its major customer bases alongside Britain. It also operates about 560 shops on UK high streets.