This article was published by Al Jazeera International.
Almost one in ten of the 600,000 Thomas Cook travellers left stranded by the holidaymaker’s collapse were in Greece on Monday.
The government said 15 aircraft were en route to fly them from the islands of Corfu and Zakynthos, in the Ionian Sea, and Kos in the Aegean, back home. It estimates that as many as 22,000 of the roughly 50,000 stranded travellers in Greece will be repatriated by Wednesday. It appeared that all of these flights were being chartered by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
“The expenses, overnight stays and flights home for tourists who flew with Thomas Cook from now until the end of their booking have been secured,” a Greek tourism ministry announcement said.
While Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomas Cook Alliance travellers appeared to have their returns secured by October 6, the outlook was less certain for Greek hotels, travel agents and tour operators.
The Greek Union of Tourism Enterprises urged the government to announce specific measures for the sector. The three month-old conservative government, which came to power promising growth and investments, said that the finance ministry was looking into “support for tourism enterprises”.
“Thomas Cook policy is to pay 90 days after the client has departed. So July, August and September haven’t been paid,” says Achilleas Sougioltzis, a travel agent at the popular resort of Molyvos on the island of Lesvos. “The company has high debts to the island… These will never be paid. Only the visitors to the island will be indemnified for their stay. We have to just suck it up.”
Sougioltzis says his small travel agency will sustain losses of 82,000 euros, which is the cost of people’s transport to and from the airport.
Like many operators on Lesvos, Sougioltzis pledged exclusivity to Thomas Cook, so they will find it difficult to replace lost business. “My loss is 87 percent of my arrivals. This effectively destroys me… I have to spend this winter finding new clients to fly to Lesvos, which is a high risk island because of the refugee crisis”
Lesvos’ tourism industry had only begun to recover from the loss of reputation due to the refugee crisis. Lesvos was the gateway for some 60 percent of refugee arrivals in the Aegean in 2015, which reached almost 900,000.
Thomas Cook brought clients from Austria, Norway, Finland, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands to Lesvos, representing more than 40 percent of charter arrivals. On Crete, Thomas Cook’s market position was even more dominant.
Thomas Cook’s network of some three dozen hotels in Greece was unable to respond as to whether any operating changes were imminent. “We’re just waiting to hear from our bosses on Kos about what will happen,” said Georgia, a receptionist at the Cook’s Club City Beach on Rhodes, which employes nine people. The hotel has continued to provide services normally to its clients, and to book new stays. Asked if salaries were going to be paid on time, she said, “We’ve not heard anything different.”
Greece is keen to protect both the reputation and the jobs of its tourism industry, which accounts for as much as 56 billion dollars in turnover – about 30 percent of the country’s economy - according to a recent study by the Union of Tourism Enterprises.
Many of Thomas Cook’s stranded clients are Britons, who are the third-most frequent visitors to Greece by nationality. In 2017, the last year for which figures are available, some three million Britons visited Greece, spending $2.3bn. Among Europeans they were surpassed only by 3.7 million Germans, who spent $2.8bn.