The British Thomas Cook Group, the world’s oldest travel service and a major industry employer listed on both the London and Frankfurt stock exchanges, ceased operations Sunday, September 22, halting trading of the public company on all exchanges.  The announcement via press release and Twitter on Monday applies to all activities world wide of the travel giant, affecting some 600,000 tourists. Neckermann Reisen, the group’s Austrian and Swiss tour operator, has a similar message on its website. 

The number of Austrians affected is thought to be as high as 15,000, although an industry spokesman later corrected that to 4,600 actually stranded abroad, according to the Austrian dailies Die Presse and Der Standard. Thousands of others will faced cancelled bookings and exposure through pre-payment.  The Thomas Cook group, the second largest after the German travel company Tui, was comprised of a tour operator and an airline, and was well-known for their all-inclusive travel packages that took tourists to holiday destinations around the world. 

The group’s website showed a message announcing that all future flights and holidays were cancelled and that they “have entered Compulsory Liquidation and are now under the control of the Official Receiver.” In a live feed first published right after the announcement, the London-based Guardian noted that Thomas Cook employees in at least one destination had “arrived to help, even though they’re not being paid any more,” which the paper called “a credit to the company.”

Austrian travel agencies that worked with Thomas Cook affiliates were taken by surprise: “This was unforeseen,” Felix König, the deputy chairman of the travel agency section at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce told public broadcaster ORF. “In July, reputable newspapers were still running headlines about a ‘Bailout for Thomas Cook.’ Everything seemed to have been cleared up – until Friday of last week, when creditor banks wanted another £200 million. This was a surprise for all of us, and possibly even for Thomas Cook itself.” 

The Österreichischen Verkehrsbüros – which operates a travel agency online and in over 100 locations in Austria under the brand Ruefa – issued a German-language statement calling on the affected Austrian travellers to contact their Service Centers directly (see link below for the phone number). 

The insolvency also affects Austrian companies that welcome tourists from abroad – on Monday, the Innsbruck Airport in Tyrol announced that they were “under extreme pressure” to find replacement flights for the winter season. The insolvency affects all those employed by Thomas Cook or its affiliated organizations – an estimated 22,000 globally and 57 in Austria, according to report in the the Kleine Zeitung

In spite of the inconvenience, Austrians forced to rebook flights and hotels will almost certainly get their money back, according to a consumer protection expert at the Arbeiterkammer (Worker’s Chamber) in Carinthia. European Union travel protection guidelines require that travellers are insured against the insolvency of operators, although not all member countries have assigned reserves high enough to cover the need. However, costs of return flights and hotels for Austrians should be covered.  “You can get back the amount that you paid the tour operator for your accommodation,” Daniela Seiß told the online edition of the Kronen Zeitung, krone.at. [The contact at Allianz relevant for Thomas Cook Österreich or Neckermann clients: Tel: 1 525 03-0 or Email: service@allianz-assistance.at]

Founded by cabinet-maker Thomas Cook in 1841 to provide rail tours for temperance travelers, the company began with Thomas Cook Group was one of the oldest and largest travel companies in the world, according to the company’s website, operating hotels, resorts, airlines and cruise ships offering integrated packages that helped shape the modern tourism industry. Thomas Cook Österreich was the third largest supplier of all-inclusive trips in the country after TUI and Ruefa, which also worked with the Thomas Cook group.

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