Over 100 Thomas Cook job losses in Northern Ireland after 23 outlets close
More than 100 people have lost their jobs in Northern Ireland with the closure of Thomas Cook's 23 outlets here.
Ten of the travel agent's properties were in Belfast.
At its height the Northern Ireland travel sector had around 250 retail stores, but now there are just under 50.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "We should not underestimate the impact that the loss of their 23 travel agencies will have on local high streets.
"The loss of any business on the high street always has an impact on surrounding traders as a result of less footfall.
"Sadly, the 23 Thomas Cook outlets join a growing list of vacancies in our town centres and shopping centres."
One Northern Ireland travel expert said that each Thomas Cook store would have an average of three to five members of staff, but job losses would be felt beyond the retail sites.
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"This would include cabin crew of Thomas Cook Airlines and a few other employees at Belfast International. There are almost certain to be resort reps from Northern Ireland abroad as well," he said.
Doreen McKenzie of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and the former proprietor of Knock Travel in east Belfast believes the closure of the stores does not mark the end of bricks and mortar retail shops.
She said: "We have to remember that Thomas Cook had big overheads, more so than the independent travel agencies on the high street.
"It had aircraft which it had to fill and it had the commitment of buying into hotel rooms which it also had to pay in advance, so while it earned more profits than the independent agency, it carried more risk and that risk wasn't coming from the retail side of things."
She added: "I've been in this industry for 45 years and from day one everyone said the days of travel agencies were numbered, but I don't believe the day of the high street store is dead and gone.
"The high street has regulated itself. Today we have around 50 travel agencies, the bulk of those are privately owned and they are thriving and doing well because they are diversifying and specialising in things like cruises, weddings and honeymoons and complex holidays that you can't buy online.
"There is what I call 'fast food travel', which is booking your low cost flight and an AirBnB, and then there are 'big ticket' purchases, those holidays that cost £3,000 to £4,000. People don't want to take the associated risks with booking online and still want someone to look after them."