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British tour operator Thomas Cook folds, leaving 600K stranded worldwide

By
Darryl Coote
The British government has executed Operation Matterhorn to repatriate over 150,000 British citizens stranded overseas due to the collapse of Thomas Cook. Photo by Armando Babani/EPA-EFE
The British government has executed Operation Matterhorn to repatriate over 150,000 British citizens stranded overseas due to the collapse of Thomas Cook. Photo by Armando Babani/EPA-EFE

Sept. 23 (UPI) -- British tour operator Thomas Cook announced it has folded, leaving an estimated 600,000 travelers stranded worldwide.

The British company operated hotels, resorts and airlines with an estimated 19 million travelers a year. Thomas Cook announced it would shut down early Monday morning after failing to secure a government bailout.

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"We are sorry to announce that Thomas Cook has ceased trading with immediate effect," the company said on Twitter late Sunday. "This account will not be monitored."

The coup attempt in Turkey, one of the top destinations, coupled with an unprecedented heat wave throughout Europe meant fewer people were traveling, which cut into Thomas Cook's profits. The company has also failed to connect with a new generation of tourists.

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In a statement, the 178-year-old company said it had no choice but to fold after negotiations failed between it and key stakeholders over recapitalization and reorganization, forcing the firm to immediately enter compulsory liquidation.

Thomas Cook CEO Peter Frankhauser apologized to employees and customers, saying the company's collapse was a "matter of profound regret."

"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 said.

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Frankhauser said the company was close to inking a deal to save the iconic British firm, but "an additional facility" requested in the past few days "proved insurmountable."

In Manchestor Airport, all Thomas Cook branding and signage has been removed from check-in desks.

The British Civil Aviation Authority said all of the firm's flights, holidays and bookings were canceled.

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Due to the unprecedented number of British customers overseas affected by the company's collapse, the CAA said it has secured a fleet of aircraft worldwide to ensure there are enough return flights. CAA CEO Richard Moriarty said it has launched what is essentially one of Britain's largest airlines, with planes from around the world, to bring citizens home.

"The nature and scale of the operation means that unfortunately some disruption will be inevitable," he said. "We ask customers to bear with us."

The repatriation effort, codenamed Operation Matterhorn, will go from Monday through to Oct. 6.

The CAA asked affected customers to check its website for more information.

"The government and U.K. CAA is working round the clock to help people," Transport Secretary Grants Shapps said in a statement. "Our contingency planning has helped acquire planes from across the world -- some from as far away as Malaysia -- and we have put hundreds of people in call centers and at airports."

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Britain's Department of Transport said it is modeling Operation Matterhorn after the plan that repatriated passengers after the collapse of Monarch Airways in 2017, at a cost of $62 million.

"We will bring everyone home," Shapps said via Twitter. "An enormous task, there will be some delays, but we're working round the clock to do everything we can."

British travelers are protected under the Air Travel Organizer's License.

Thomas Cook left an estimated 50,000 travelers stranded in Greece and another 35,000 stuck in the Nordic countries.

The island of Crete relies heavily on tourists that book hotels through Thomas Cook.

"The size of the Thomas Cook collapse can be compared to a 7-magnitude earthquake -- but sometimes the tsunami is even worse, and in this occasion what we're bracing for is the tsunami," Michalis Vlatakis, president of the Association of Cretan Travel and Tourism Agencies told CNN.

The Greek Tourism Association will need "quick and effective responses."

Travelers are being asked to pay their bills twice by resort owners who are suddenly out their money. The Civil Aviation Authority urges travelers not to make payments to the hotel unless instructed to by the CAA.

The collapse of Thomas Cook came three days after it said it was seeking some $250 million from stakeholders, on top of a previously announced $1.1 billion injection of funds.

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In May, the debt-riddled company posted over $1.9 billion in losses for the first half of the year, blaming its problems on political unrest in countries such as Turkey, a prolonged summer heat wave and customers delaying holidays due to Britain's planned departure from the European Union, among other issues.

The company's collapse will also affect some 22,000 staff.

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