Travel agent members of the Thomas Cook consortium have been left high and dry in the wake of its collapse, it has been claimed
Members across the country are struggling to work through piles of paperwork on behalf of customers after the back-office system for Freedom Travel Group, which has around 150 members, was shut down on Monday morning when Cook entered liquidation.
But with no guarantee as to who will honour bookings and with little official guidance over how businesses can handle the crisis, agents are doing their best to support their customers.
Kevin Connell, director of Ember Travel in Surrey, said although he had no one in resort at the time of the collapse on Monday, he had more forward bookings for 2020 than at the same point a year ago for 2019, while bookings stretch as far ahead as 2021.
“We’re not getting anything from head office and we’ve not heard anything from anybody at Freedom Travel Group," he said.
Connell said he first heard about the operator’s collapse on Sky News before later receiving an official email confirming the news.
He and his team are now desperately trying to ensure forward bookings will go ahead as planned, a task that has been further complicated now he can no longer access Freedom’s back-office system since it was turned off in the wake of the crash.
Connell said: “We’ve gone back to paper.”
He said even standard package holiday bookings with third-party tour operators are causing problems as all the money was paid via Freedom and there are now concerns as to where the money has ended up.
Another travel agent, who would only give his name as Andrew and asked for his business not to be named, said he felt like he was starting all over again despite years of hard work as a Freedom member.
“We have been completely wiped out and that’s the biggest deal, as all that work for the next 18 months to two years has gone out of the window," he said.
“We can look at other ideas or joining other consortia but we’ll be starting from scratch with all the stuff to sort out.”
Andrew added although he has fewer than 100 customers overseas, all bookings are proving problematic, as they often never know which suppliers will honour their agreements until the customer arrives.
He argued more could have been done by the authorities, especially the CAA, in advance of Thomas Cook’s collapse to minimise the impact.
He added: “Thomas Cook has been a mess for quite a while and there should have been an action plan in place.”
Another agent, who also asked not to be named, said staff in her shop had spent the day trying to get operators to pick up bookings that had been originally made under the Freedom Atol but which are no longer valid.
However, she admitted the agency was at least as up to date on its commission payments as it could be, having had the account most recently paid up on 9 September.
An Abta spokesperson said: “As part of the demise of Thomas Cook, the Freedom Travel Group has ceased trading and, as such, its agents should not be taking any further payments for bookings.
“We understand that these agents will wish to assist customers and we recommend they visit abta.com/thomascook for further advice.”
TTG has approached the CAA for comment and is awaiting a reply.