Greece's tourism sector reeling from Thomas Cook collapse

Travellers will soon be sent home, but hotels and tourism service providers are left out of pocket.

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    British tourists on the island of Crete will be sent home in the coming days, but the hotels they leave will remain empty [Costas Metaxakis/AFP]
    British tourists on the island of Crete will be sent home in the coming days, but the hotels they leave will remain empty [Costas Metaxakis/AFP]

    Athens, Greece - Almost one in 10 of the 600,000 Thomas Cook travellers left stranded by the company's collapse were in Greece on Monday.

    The government said 15 aircraft were en route to fly them home from the islands of Corfu and Zakynthos, in the Ionian Sea, and Kos in the Aegean. 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," announced the Greek tourism ministry.

    While Thomas Cook Airlines and Thomas Cook Alliance travellers appeared to have their return home 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 investment, said 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 Molyvos resort 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."

    Sougioltzis says his small travel agency would sustain losses of 82,000 euros ($90,000).

    Like many operators on Lesvos, Sougioltzis pledged exclusivity to Thomas Cook, so will find it difficult to replace lost business.

    "My loss is 87 percent of my arrivals. This effectively destroys me," he told Al Jazeera. "I have to spend this winter finding new clients to fly to Lesvos."

    Thomas Cook policy is to pay 90 days after the client has departed. So July, August and September haven't been paid

    Achilleas Sougioltzis, travel agent

    Thomas Cook brought clients from Austria, Norway, Finland, the UK, Denmark, Sweden and 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 employs nine people.

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    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 eager to protect both the reputation and the jobs of its tourism industry, which accounts for as much as $56bn 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, 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.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News