Editor's Viewpoint: Human cost of the fall of Thomas Cook
The collapse of the Thomas Cook company is a sad and momentous development in the history of the travel business. It was literally a world brand, and the magnitude of its demise is startling.
More than 165,000 people are waiting in many overseas countries to be brought home, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is masterminding one of the greatest repatriations in aviation history.
Internationally, more than 22,000 jobs are threatened, with 9,000 in the UK alone. In Northern Ireland, 23 stores will close with the loss of around 100 jobs.
It is a tough blow for those who have lost their jobs and may find it difficult to find similar work in the travel industry. And those whose holiday plans are now thrown into chaos face considerable challenges too.
There is the distress of those overseas who are waiting to be repatriated, and also anxiety for their families at home. There is also the disappointment of those whose holidays will be cancelled, after weeks and months of anticipation.
It is particularly distressing for families with young children, and also for the elderly, who have been caught up in the chaos. And for those too who had booked their travel arrangements for unique occasions, such as a wedding — leaving the bride, groom and all the guests to try and figure out what on earth happens now.
In one sense this upheaval is perhaps not a surprise — there were reports of Thomas Cook being in the shadow of closure for some time. However, the reality is hitting people hard.
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Travel experts claim that one of the factors contributing to the demise is the change in how holidays are booked, with the traditional package holiday in falling demand.
Instead, many choose to go online and organise their own travel arrangements from the comfort of their home. Yet there are still many others who prefer to book through a travel agent, relying on their expert advice for peace of mind. The main consolation in this grim picture is that the UK travellers will not be abandoned overseas and that the CAA is well-placed to deal with such a calamity.
Those who are entitled to get their money back will be reassured, though there are many without such backing who may fall through the net. Doubtless there will be detailed inquests as to what went wrong with the Thomas Cook business.
There are still well-established providers in the travel industry.
However, the disappearance of Thomas Cook, at one time such a major institution, may make us all think twice about how we choose and book our holidays.